MOGADISHU (Somaliguardian) –Somalia’s Ministry of Information has issued a statement Wednesday accusing a detained journalist of being a member of the Al-Qaeda affiliated Al-Shabaab movement and complicit in a murder crime.
The accusation has sent shockwaves through Somali media, which journalists eye as yet another step taken by authorities to label journalists as terrorists just for reporting truth.
Mohamed Abdiwahab (Abuja) was arrested in early March in a Police swoop and has sustained injuries from a bullet, according to his family. He has since been held incommunicado and authorities did not point out the reason he was detained until journalists protested in Mogadishu to demand his immediate release.
“Abuja is a Somali journalist and we have reason to believe he was targeted because of his work as a journalist”, said Mohamed Ibrahim Moallimow , the Secretary General of Federation of Somali Journalists, adding that the journalist is held because he comes from voiceless communities whose politicians and MPs do not speak out.
Many journalists voiced such concerns, arguing that Mohamed Abdiwahab Abuja remains in custody that long because he is from Jareerwayne –a marginalized clan in Somalia and that two other journalists who have been arrested recently are now free.
Last week security forces in Mogadishu arrested Abdiasis Gurbiye, the editor of Goobjoog media after reporting a ventilator taken home by President Farmajo from De Martini Hospital in Mogadishu, which was barely one of few at the facility that currently hosts more than 200 COVID19 patients. However, Gurbiye has later been released on bail after powerful individuals representing his clan in politics paid relentless efforts involving advocacy.
“I am heartbroken. I do not know if he is alive or dead,” said Jamila Ali, mother of imprisoned journalist, Mohamed Abdiwahab Abuja speaking to Somali Journalists Syndicate, “I tried every prison but they told me he was not there,” she added.
Since the current President of Somalia Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo came to power, the country has been becoming more of a hostile environment for journalists to live and apart from intimidations, killings and grueling punishments; media professionals are also being branded as terrorists to justify abuse.
“This last action of Somali government’s accusation against journalist Mohamed Abuja is a well calculated move to send a chilling message to journalists and other critics that the government does not tolerate criticism,” reads a statement issued by Somali Journalists Syndicate –an organization that advocates for rights of media professionals in Somalia.
Abuja has not yet been brought to court and remains in detention for more than 50 days. Even if he is being accused of being an Al-Shabaab affiliate why do authorities hesitate to bring him to court? –is a question many journalists ask that still remains unanswered by authorities.
More recently, another journalist working for VOA Somali Service was arrested for reporting a story about a gang-rape incident of which one of 3 young female victims has succumbed to injuries at a hospital. He has later been released on bail.
On October 21 2019, Somali Minister of Information Mohamed Abdi Hayir accused journalists of working for Al-Shabaab and threatened to take action. Several months later on April 2, Somali Intelligence Service NISA made the same threat against renowned journalist Harun Maruf for allegedly having links deemed threat against national security.
The recent accusation against Abuja – the editor of Hiigsi radio in Mogadishu has by no means been the first –aimed to taunt media professionals and force them either to “shut their mouths up” or move into exile, according to journalists who spoke to Somaliguardian.
For many, labeling journalists as terrorists is the latest onslaught part of a sweeping government crackdown aimed to muzzle serious media and journalists -with the aim of only leaving behind mediocre ones to deprive citizens of accessing impartial news coverage.
Amnesty International earlier said Somali government was bribing media stations and journalists in the country to report news only in the way authorities favor to promote incumbent President’s popularity, however, analysts warn that Somalia is now edging closer to taking Eritrea’s model of dictatorship.
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