In Africa, human rights defenders (HRDs) and activists working to promote and protect human rights and journalists reporting news and bringing information to the public in volatile political contexts face major risks such as physical attacks and assaults, arrests, intimidation, restriction on their rights to freedom of movement, defamation and shrinking civic space and sometimes get killed. Somalia, for the sixth year running, topped the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Global Impunity Index as the country with the most unsolved journalist murders.
It is against this background that Digital Shelter in partnership with RAAGSAN Consultants conducted baseline study which was officially launched in Mogadishu. The study was sponsored by the Digital Defenders Partnership (DDP) a flagship program initiated by Freedom Online Coalition aimed at offering support to human rights defenders under digital threat.
“The findings presented from this research exactly reflects the lived daily realities of HRDs, Journalists and bloggers. Perhaps there is even more complicated challenges that need to be addressed but the study came on time shedding light on the serious risks faced by these front line groups” said Mr Hassan Ali Gesey Director of Dalsan Media Groups who was a panelist at the launching event in Mogadishu.
The study of physical and digital security challenges facing media workers and HRD reviews the current risk factors affecting HRDs and media workers and identifies ways to mitigate these risks in five federal member states and Banadir region of Somalia. Over the years, Somalia has seen a steady increase of internet penetration and the number of mobile phone users is equivalent to 45.3% of its total population. The adoption of technology has expanded the media landscape and civic space with social media platforms and blogs empowering journalists, HRDs and bloggers to document and report human abuses, campaign for reforms and advocate for change. This however has come with its own set of threats and challenges for the same groups; including threats to online freedom of expression through internet disruptions, website censorship, hacking, spreading of misinformation and propaganda among others.
A mixed method approach was applied during the study where a survey tool and FGD guide were administered to collect data from media actors and HRDs to document the threats faced by individuals involved in Media. A comprehensive review of literature available was also conducted helping to inform and support the study findings and recommendations. Media workers and HRDs in Somalia are exposed to various forms of digital threats. The most common cited physical security threats include:
- intimidation from people in positions of power,
- illegal arrest/detention,
- direct threats,
- sexual harassment and sexual assault especially for females,
- physical attacks by security forc es, and
Other threats faced by Media workers and HRDs include: impersonation on online platforms, stolen data, hacking, virus attack, and cyberbullying. Ignorance of digital security threats, lack of adequate protection measures and lack of government and organisation policies were also identified as the main risk factors exposing media actors and HRDs to digital threats and attacks.
The study highlighted that there is an urgent need to review the current media bill and incorporate practice of freedom of speech, media freedom and evidence-based reporting. Additionally, there is also a need to include provisions on cyber and digital security, protecting media workers and HRDs against digital security threats in the existing laws. Media workers and HRDs should also understand that digital and physical security are linked and should take the necessary steps to improve both.