TV correspondent for China Global Television Network based in Mogadishu, is accustomed to being shot at by government soldiers and police trying to disperse reporters when he goes to cover al-Shabab blast sites in Somalia. “The police shoot at journalists all the time,” he told the Mail & Guardian. He never expected, however, that a government official would assault him and his cameraman at an evening Independence Day reception at the prime minister’s residence. He has been threatened and harrassed “time and again” by the government, but Billow told the M&G that the manhandling at the celebration was “on another level.”
Billow’s account is echoed by the findings of a just-released Amnesty International report titled, We Live in Perpetual Fear, a 52-page document comprising more than 70 interviews that accuses the sitting Somali government of quashing overall freedom of expression, both in person and on the internet. So extreme have these threats to free expression become that the only free ambulance service in the capital, Aamin Ambulance, was told it cannot publicly report civilian casualty figures after it arrived at the scene of Al-Shabaab attacks. Public figures critical of the administration on social media will be reported as “terrorists” and their accounts deactivated.
The number of journalists being killed have gone down since President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (better known as Farmajoo) took office in 2017, but general freedom of expression has greatly declined, said Abdalle Ali Mumin, a journalist who works with The Guardian, The New Humanitarian and other outlets, and who co-founded the Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS) last year. Mumin says that “the barrage of attacks against the press, predominantly perpetrated by state actors, was one key reason the SJS was formed in May 2019”.
The Amnesty International report paints a picture of a paranoid, aggressive administration, brutally sensitive to any news that it would interpret as diminishing its reputation at home or abroad. The report documents both physical — even fatal — intimidation and bribes by the government and its supporters. “They want to contain the information that is coming out,” Billow said. At the time of publication neither the office of the president nor the office of the prime minister responded to emails from the M&G requesting responses on the report…….