Saturday, May 18, 2024
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Media Under Siege: Journalists’ Struggle In Ethiopia’s Somali Region

By Abdijaliil Osman

On the hallowed occasion of May 3rd, World Press Freedom Day serves as a poignant reminder of the essentiality of press liberty, an ethos enshrined by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993. This annual commemoration invokes introspection amongst media professionals worldwide, highlighting the imperative of unfettered journalism and ethical practice.

This year, amidst the global chorus advocating for journalistic freedom under the theme ‘A Press for the Planet: Journalism in the face of the Environmental Crisis,’ a somber reality persists in Ethiopia’s Somali region. Approximately 40 local journalists languish in a climate of fear, with ten others forced into exile after the regional administration shuttered their media outlets. The remaining brave souls endure relentless intimidation, their voices stifled by the specter of reprisal.

In a draconian move in late January 2023, Ethiopian authorities suspended 15 foreign media outlets operating within the Somali regional state, concurrently revoking the license of a regional journalists’ association. This crackdown rendered independent journalists obsolete, compelling them to lay down their pens and relinquish their cameras, lest they face criminal prosecution for their noble pursuit of truth.

As the world commemorates this seminal day, the Fafan regional court in Jigjiga, handed down a two-year sentence to journalist Muhyiddin Mohamed Abdullahi on May 2, 2024, just one day shy of World Press Freedom Day. Muhyiddin was accused of inciting social discord and spreading false information—a charge he vehemently denied.

I have brought this critical issue to the attention of Abdulrazak Hassan, Chair of the Somali Region Journalists Association, a steadfast advocate for media rights. He expressed deep concern over the escalating curbs on press freedom in Ethiopia’s Somali Region, where a staggering 15 media outlets, including BBC Somali 2023, have been banned. This oppressive crackdown has instilled fear in the hearts of 40 journalists, compelling them to grapple with constant threats to their safety, exacerbated by heightened social media surveillance that stifles dissent,” shared Abdulrazak.

The Chairman further underscored the perilous plight faced by scores of journalists, many of whom have been compelled to flee the region in the wake of relentless intimidation and arbitrary arrests.

“Ten additional journalists have sought refuge abroad, a testament to the grave dangers confronting those who dare to speak truth to power. Despite these adversities, the Somali Region Journalists Association remains resolute, steadfast in the face of threats and targeted attacks. It is a reality that journalists in the Somali region not only endure threats but also risk incarceration, exemplified by the case of Muhyiddin, who has languished in Fafan prison for over 85 days, with a recent court verdict sentencing him to two years behind bars,” he added, underscoring the urgent need for international attention and action.

Among the afflicted stands is Journalists like Mahad Ali Hussein, who faced arbitrary detentions for reporting on the conflict in the Tigray region, tell tales of their harrowing escapes to freedom. Mahad’s journey from the darkness of a cell to the light of asylum in the United States underscores the high stakes of this profession.

“Following my abduction and arrest at home, I lived in constant fear for my life. The uncertainty of an unknown fate haunted me. In search of safety and freedom, I embarked on a dangerous journey to a foreign land—the United States. There, I discovered the precious rights of free speech and independent thought, which had been denied to me before.” Mahad told me in a phone conversation.

In the hearts of Jigjiga’s denizens, despondency festers, epitomized by the plight of Cawke Ali Ibrahim, erstwhile luminary of Horyaal TV, now relegated to the annals of shuttered media establishments. His poignant words encapsulate the despair that permeates the besieged community, grappling with the erosions of freedom and the specter of unemployment.

Over the past two years, the erosion of freedom of speech has become an increasingly alarming concern. “Personally, I have felt the weight of unemployment bearing down on me, and each passing day only deepens my apprehension and uncertainty,” expressed Cawke Ali Ibrahim.

Female journalists stand as some of the most vulnerable individuals, enduring constant intimidation from local security agencies. Maryam, a pseudonym for her safety, grapples with a life overshadowed by fear. Once an aspiring journalist and skilled videographer, she now finds herself navigating a landscape marred by uncertainty.

“The suspension of independent media outlets came as a devastating blow,” she lamented. “As a woman, losing my profession and the passion I held for journalism has left me profoundly disheartened.” She added.

Despite promises of reform by President Mustafa Omer seven years ago, the situation has deteriorated, leaving Somali Region Television (SRTV) as the only functioning channel—a token in a sea of silenced dissent.

Abdijaliil Osman

Email: [email protected]

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Abdijaliil Osman, a freelance journalist with experience in the complex political affairs of Africa and the Middle East, previously worked with BBC Africa.

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Related articles:

Somali media: Ethics, truth and integrity By Abdelkarim A Hassan


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