Our Voices

SJS and RFK Human Rights call for Mohamed Bulbul’s immediate release

MOGADISHU/ WASHINGTON DC – The Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS) and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights (RFKHR) strongly denounce the ongoing arbitrary detention of SJS Information and Human Rights Secretary, Mohamed Ibrahim Osman Bulbul and demand his immediate and unconditional release. We are deeply alarmed by the growing trend of attacks against journalists and a free press in Somalia.

On 17 August 2023, Bulbul, who is also an editor at Kaab TV in Somalia, was abducted while participating in a class at Mogadishu University. While in class, several armed men physically attacked Bulbul – he was punched in the chest and hit repeatedly with a pistol before being blindfolded and whisked away in an unmarked vehicle. The men who assaulted Bulbul were unidentified plain-clothed individuals, allegedly linked to national intelligence and the police in Mogadishu. Bulbul’s whereabouts were unknown for many hours as he was denied the opportunity to contact his lawyers, family or colleagues. Members of SJS learned that Bulbul was being held at the Hamar Jajab Criminal Investigation Department (CID) unofficially.

Bulbul’s abduction was in direct reprisal for his investigative work regarding corruption in the Somali police force. His attack occurred within 24 hours after his investigative reporting exposed the embezzlement of public funds by officers of the Somali Police Force. The misappropriated funds were earmarked for stipends to be paid to junior police officers participating in a seminar organized by the European Union Capacity Building Mission (EUCAP). However, participants at the training never received their stipends despite attending in full. The exposé was published by Kaab TV.

In addition to his arbitrary detention, Bulbul has been denied access to legal representation and communication with his family. He has been reportedly subjected to interrogation by a team led by head of the CID, Abdifatah Ali Hersi, in the absence of his legal counsel. Reports indicate that Banadir police commander Mahdi Omar Muumin (known as Moalim Mahdi) ordered Bulbul’s detention without a valid warrant. Such actions constitute a flagrant violation of the law, a breach of Bulbul’s fundamental human rights, and a direct contravention of the principles of a free press.

“We strongly condemn the ongoing detention, unwarranted intimidation, and threats against our colleague, journalist Mohamed Ibrahim Bulbul by the Somali police in Mogadishu. He is detained solely due to his investigative journalism exposing alleged police corruption. It is deeply distressing that Bulbul has suffered torture and has been denied his rights to meet with his family and legal counsel. We demand his immediate and unconditional freedom,” said Abdalle Ahmed Mumin, Secretary-General of SJS. “Those responsible for Mohamed Bulbul’s unlawful detention and torture must be held accountable.”

After over 12 days of detention, no charges have been filed against Bulbul and according to a letter from the court, On 19 August, Bulbul made a brief appearance before the Banadir Regional Court, resulting in an extension of his detention by an additional seven days. Moreover, authorities in Somalia have made frantic attempts to identify Bulbul’s sources within the police force. On Monday, 21 August, SJS received a call from CID officers demanding access to Bulbul’s phone and laptop login details. They also demanded information relating to sources of Bulbul’s investigative report. SJS refused to comply with these unlawful demands and are alarmed to learn that the Regional Court granted the CID access to Bulbul’s cell phone in breach of his right to privacy without input from his lawyers

“Bulbul’s ordeal is a concerning example of the hostile environment within which journalists operate in Somalia. The actions of the state operatives portray a blatant violation of rights protected by the Somali Constitution, African Charter and other binding human rights treaties. The government must desist from such actions and release Bulbul immediately.” said Ikechukwu Uzoma staff attorney at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

In addition to the brazen assault on Bulbul’s rights, there has been a sustained cyber attack on the SJS website. Since August 12, the SJS website has been rendered inoperable following attacks specifically targeting SJS content related to Bulbul’s case, further highlighting the multifaceted nature of attacks against journalists in Somalia.

For democracy to thrive, freedom of the press is essential and the government has a binding obligation to respect, promote and protect the right. We strongly urge the government of Somalia to end the continuing violation of the rights of Bulbul and other journalists facing arbitrary detention and persecution for their work.