January 28 — H.E. Hassan Sheikh Mohamud
President of the Federal Republic of Somalia
Office of the President of Somalia
Villa Somalia, Mogadishu
Dear President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud,
We are writing to express our concern about a Somali journalist who has been imprisoned since January 10 for interviewing a woman who claimed she was raped by government soldiers. We are also concerned by recent statements you made in Washington indicating your administration will not tolerate negative coverage by the local press. We urge you to ensure the journalist is released immediately and to follow up on your commitment to create a task force to investigate Somalia's unsolved journalist murders.
Freelance journalist Abdiaziz Abdinuur was detained without charge on January 10 at a police station in Mogadishu, where he has remained with limited access to a lawyer. No warrant was issued for his arrest. Abdiaziz has contributed to several news outlets including Dalsan Radio, Badri Media Productions, Radio Ergo, and the U.K.-based Daily Telegraph.
Police had summoned Abdiaziz for questioning in connection with his January 8 interview with an internally displaced woman who claimed she was raped by Somali soldiers while living in a camp last year. Al-Jazeera English had published a story on January 6 about government soldiers raping internally displaced women in Mogadishu camps. It was unclear if the woman mentioned in the story was the same one Abdiaziz had interviewed.
In a news conference on January 16, Police Commissioner Sharif Shekuna Maye accused Abdiaziz of assisting Al-Jazeera with the story and of bribing the alleged rape victim. He said Abdiaziz had tried to "tarnish the dignity of the police force and the dignity of the Somali nation." But CPJ research shows that Abdiaziz had no connection to the Al-Jazeera report and had, in fact, interviewed the woman two days after the story was published. In addition, Abdiaziz never published his own interview with the alleged rape victim.
In a January 17 speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, you declared your government was committed to good governance, accountability, and transparency. Yet, when asked a question about the ongoing detention of Abdiaziz, you said: "We want [journalists] to be free and have the opportunity to tell the people what they are supposed to tell ... but that does not mean that tainting negatively the image of the public, the image of the government is not something acceptable to any standard in the world...And this is propaganda. We do not detain unnecessarily, the police is handling, and it is a civil case."
In your speech, Mr. President, you also stated that credible judicial reform was the second priority of your government's agenda. But this cannot take place in a country where journalists are summarily thrown in jail for critical reporting. Moreover, there is no legal basis for holding a journalist simply for conducting an interview. This arrest sends a chilling message to the Somali media to self-censor any critical coverage of security forces or of sensitive but important issues such as the rights of internally displaced Somali citizens.
The day after your speech in Washington, the minister of interior accused Abdiaziz of fabricating the rape story, according to the state-run press. We believe that such a statement by a high-level official in your government violates the journalist's presumption of innocence and puts political pressure on the judicial process.
Mr. President, in your January 17 speech, you also identified the need to overcome the "culture of impunity" in Somalia. CPJ research shows that not a single journalist murder has been prosecuted in Somalia over the past decade. CPJ ranked Somalia second worst on its 2012 Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where journalists are murdered regularly and the killers go free.
CPJ documented 12 journalist murders in Somalia in 2012, making the country the most dangerous in Africa for journalists. The day after your speech, on January 18, unidentified assailants in Mogadishu gunned down veteran journalist Abdihared Osman, the fifth journalist from the Shabelle Media Network killed in 13 months.
You can advance your goal of good governance, transparency, and accountability by creating the task force to investigate and resolve murders of journalists, as you pledged to do last year. If you want to "rebuild Somalia with strong institutions that can deliver services to people," as you said, we urge you to begin here.
In the past two weeks, you have had several meetings with leaders and diplomats from across the globe, including U.S. President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. During a press conference in Washington on January 17, Secretary Clinton said that the United States sees new opportunity and optimism in Somalia with the establishment of your government. But we at CPJ are concerned that recent actions taken by your government and the ever-growing number of unsolved murders in Somalia tarnish this sense of optimism.
We urge you to ensure Abdiaziz Abdinuur is released from custody immediately and that all journalists in Somalia are allowed to report freely and critically. We also call you on to follow up on your commitment to create a task force that would bring to justice the perpetrators of the journalist murders in the country.