Peace Councils increase the safety of Somali journalists

Journalists in Somalia run the risk of being wrongfully arrested or even murdered because of the work they do. Media, civil society organisations, judiciary and police are making efforts to work together in three regional peace councils, for a safer working environment for journalists.

Ibrahim Mohamed, project officer with our partner, Media Association of Puntland (MAP), paints a solemn picture of the situation in his region. ‘We do have media laws, but these exist only on paper. A politician who disagrees with a news report can easily call the police and order an arrest warrant. The police will then arrest the journalist and throw him in jail where he or she will remain without trial for weeks.’

Unlawful arrest is a risk that journalists in Somalia run. But that’s not all: in the last ten years, 45 journalists were killed in this country because of their work. Murderers do not need to worry about prosecution: for the fourth consecutive year, Somalia is at the top of the impunity index of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). What makes the situation extra complicated, is that the underpaid journalists in Somalia are often corrupt themselves and take payment for reporting. The result: a deep-rooted mutual mistrust between journalists, politicians and police.

‘No one is above the law’

That is why Free Press Unlimited, together with three journalists’ associations, organised so-called ‘peace councils’ last year in Somalia, Somaliland and Puntland, in which all parties concerned spoke about a safer working environment for journalists. Mohamed organised two sessions Puntland. Based on cases studies, the participants discussed which challenges journalists are facing in Puntland and why a safe working environment is so important. Mohamed looks back with satisfaction. ‘We now have more friends fighting for the freedom of expression, also within the police,’ he says.

Significant results were booked in Puntland. The participants established a committee for the protection of journalists, with representatives from media, police and civil society organisations, like the Puntland Women Lawyers Association. They also set up two helplines, one for male and one for female journalists who are in danger. In November, media and police even drew up a step-by-step plan broadening their cooperation to increase the safety of journalists.

The peace councils also proved to be a success outside the sessions. Mohamed witnessed a change in the attitude of the police. In six cases, the police commissioner, who had been ordered by a politician to arrest a journalist, called MAP first. ‘This shows that the police understood that this arrest warrant was unlawful. We managed to resolve the issue in a dialogue,’ he says.

These successes are enough reason for MAP to continue with the peace councils. ‘What police and journalists agree on, is that no one is above the law,’ says Mohamed. ‘The peace councils give us the chance to make parties aware of that law – and how to preserve it. It is important to remain in dialogue with each other.’

Since: 2017
Donor: Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Contribution: € 82,000

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