Somalia: Baseless Charges Against Prominent Journalist

On July 7, Abdiaziz Ahmed Gurbiye, the chief editor and deputy director of the independent Goobjoog Media Group, appeared in court in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu.

But his case should have never gone this far.

On April 14, Abdiaziz was summoned to his local police station and detained for four days after making two Facebook posts criticizing the Somali government's response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The authorities released Abdiaziz on bail, but warned him against pursuing any further critical commentary, including on Covid-19. He's been living in legal limbo ever since.

But last week, Mogadishu's regional court summoned Abdiaziz on charges of "insult[ing] a political, administrative or judicial body," and "publication of false news." These vague offenses are found in outdated provisions restricting free expression in the country's criminal code.

The charges violate Somalia's obligations under regional and international human rights treaties that protect people's right to criticize government officials and state institutions. As the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights has stated, those "who assume highly visible public roles must necessarily face a higher degree of criticism than private citizens; otherwise public debate may be stifled altogether."

On World Press Freedom Day in May, Somalia's President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed "Farmajo" publicly committed to reforming outdated provisions in the country's criminal code. He also said his administration supported ending the use of criminal law against journalists.

While steps have yet to be taken to reform the criminal code, the government can immediately improve Somalia's media environment by not bringing criminal cases against journalists for doing their jobs.

It's not too late in Abdiaziz's case.

Authorities should immediately drop the charges against Abdiaziz and make clear that critical commentary is a welcome element of democratic society. As Somalia prepares for an electoral process, the government should demonstrate that independent journalism is more important than ever.

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