Victory for Press Freedom in Somalia

Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS), Somali Media Association (SOMA), and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights welcome the opinion of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) declaring the arrest and detention of our client, journalist Mohamed Abdiwahab Nuur (“Abuuja”), in Somalia arbitrary and in violation of international law.

Mr. Nuur, a Somali human rights defender, journalist, and editor for Radio Hiigsi, has published pieces critical of the government since 2016. Throughout his work, he has bravely reported on abuses of power committed by the security forces, restrictions on freedom of expression, and the targeting of marginalized communities in the capital city of Mogadishu.

Somali authorities first detained him on February 29, 2020, in retaliation for an editorial he published three days earlier criticizing Somali security forces for engaging in threats and intimidation against Somali citizens. During that detention, officers tortured him and threatened to kill him if he continued his reporting. He was released a few days later on the condition that he would not speak about his detention; however, Mr. Nuur was vocal about his unlawful imprisonment and on March 7, 2020, National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) authorities re-arrested him. He was held incommunicado for 92 days before his lawyer was finally allowed to see him, and only officially charged on August 3, 2020 by a military court which ordered him to be released after nearly five months in detention. The UNWGAD issued an opinion despite his release as they are empowered to do through their mandate, due to the “extremely serious” nature of the case.

“We are extremely glad to hear the decision by the UN Working Group on the case of our colleague Mohamed Abdiwahab Nuur (“Abuuja”)” said Abdalle Ahmed Mumin, the secretary general of Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS). “This victorious decision paves a way for our colleague to get justice and we call on Somalia’s federal authorities to commission a full and independent investigation of the circumstances leading to the detention of Mr. Nuur and hold accountable those responsible,” he added.

“The Somali Media Association (SOMA) welcomes this historic decision by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention regarding the human rights abuses perpetrated against journalist Mohamed Abdiwahab Nuur (“Abuuja”),” said Mohamed Osman Makaran, SOMA Secretary General. “It is now the responsibility of the Somalia Federal Government to ensure that journalist Nuur gets the justice he deserves.”

The UN Working Group found that the government arbitrarily deprived Mr. Nuur of his liberty without a legal basis as a result of exercising his freedom of expression and violated his right to a fair trial. It also found that the Somali government violated his rights to non-discrimination, noting that “Mr. Nuur’s criticism of the Government and his persecution may be understood against the backdrop of the pervasive discrimination and persecution faced by the Somali Bantu ethnic minorities” of which Mr. Nuur is a member.

In its opinion, the UN Working Group calls on the Somali government to grant Mr. Nuur an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, and urges the Government to undertake a full and independent investigation of the circumstances leading to his arrest and to hold accountable those responsible. The Working Group also referred the case to the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, for further consideration.

“Abuuja’s case is emblematic of the restricted civic space and worrying trend of human rights abuses committed against journalists and human rights defenders by state authorities in Somalia,” said Angelita Baeyans, vice president of international advocacy and litigation at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “We call upon the Somali government to implement the reparations for Mr. Nuur to remedy these violations and to take a positive step towards human rights protection and accountability.”

SJS, SOMA, and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights appreciate the solidarity and support from International Media Support (IMS), attorney Michael Polak and human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) during Mr. Nuur’s detention.