The head of the Somali Journalists Syndicate has vowed to work without self-censorship after a court found him guilty of flouting government orders. Abdalle Ahmed Mumin was arrested in October for rejecting the government's demand to refer to al-Shabab militants only as Khawarij, which is Arabic for dissenters of Islam. He was sentenced to two months in prison Monday but immediately released.
Abdalle Ahmed Mumin said prison officials freed him after informing him that previous arrests and court appearances had compensated for the two months handed down by the judge.
He told VOA that the court verdict has emboldened his resolve to fight for media rights and freedoms in Somalia.
He said, “I vow that what happened yesterday will not instill fear in me; it will not disappoint me at any cost but instead will encourage me.” He said, “It has given me the strength and attitude to know how important my work is.”
Mumin said the prison sentence he received was a warning from the government to journalists in Somalia.
He said, “The ruling of the court is intimidation and a message to Somali journalists reporting issues that the government does not like. It is a message that says not to report human rights abuses and problems in the country.”
Deputy Information Minister Abdirahman al-Adalla told VOA that the court acted without influence from the government.
He added that the government was in no way in conflict with the media.
He said, “No mindset, responsibility or law allows us to conflict with the journalists. We are there to defend them,” he said. “We are also here to defend them against Khawarij and other enemies that harm them.”
Following Mumin’s sentencing, media organizations in Somalia expressed concerns that government decrees will now receive judicial backing at the expense of their freedoms and independence.
Mohamed Osman Makaran is the general secretary of the Somali Media Association, an umbrella of media houses.
Makaran says, “The verdict will have an impact on the media. We expected that if a journalist is accused, he will get justice, but today's sentence (of Mumin) is one being criticized by the independent media and media watchdogs.”
Makaran said the recent decrees by the government, including a ban on the term al-Shabab and restricting coverage of the group’s activities, have adversely impacted the work of journalists in Somalia.
He said, "Due to the decisions by the government, some of the independent media houses have expressed fear and concern in recent days. This has caused some of them, forced them not to report some incidents related to violations, including some committed by government forces.”
The Somali government has been at odds with the media since the passage of a 2018 media law that journalists say is oppressive.
Many journalists have also decried decrees by the government concerning the ongoing campaign against al-Shabab. They warn that abiding by government directives further exposes them to attacks by the militant group, which has killed many journalists over the years.