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Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The law provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, but neither federal nor regional authorities respected this right. The law criminalizes the spreading of “false news,” which it does not define, with penalties including imprisonment of up to six months.

The government, government-aligned militias, authorities in Somaliland, Puntland, South West State, Galmudug, and Jubaland, ASWJ, al-Shabaab, and unknown assailants killed, abused, and harassed journalists with impunity (see sections 1.a., 1.d., and 1.g.). On August 20, the Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS) filed a formal complaint with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) independent expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia, the UN Human Rights Council, and the OHCHR special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression alleging that the government was in breach of its obligations to protect journalists from attacks. The SJS alleged that the government failed to investigate the February 17 killing of journalist Abdiwali Ali Hassan by unknown assailants and the July 12 killings of journalists Mohamed Sahal Omar and Hodan Nalayeh by al-Shabaab.

Somaliland law prohibits publication or circulation of exaggerated or provocative news capable of disturbing public order, and officials used the provision to charge and arrest journalists.

Freedom of Speech: Individuals in government-controlled areas risked reprisal for criticizing government officials, particularly for alleged official corruption or suggestions that officials were unable to manage security matters. Such interference remained common outside the capital, particularly in Puntland and Somaliland.

There was evidence that the government continued to use outdated legal authorities to suppress criticism and dissent. On April 14, police arrested Goobjoog Media Group Deputy Director Abdiasis Ahmed Gurbiye after he published a series of Facebook posts alleging that President Farmaajo ordered a donated ventilator moved from Mogadishu’s De Martini Hospital to the presidential office during the COVID-19 pandemic. The arrest drew criticism from domestic and international media rights NGOs amid allegations that the government was attempting to suppress a matter of public health concern and possible wrongdoing. On July 29, the Benadir Regional Court sentenced him to six months in prison and a monetary fine for “publication or circulation of false, exaggerated, or tendentious information capable of disturbing public order.” While Gurbiye was able to pay a fine to avoid serving his prison sentence, media organizations noted the chilling effect of his case on journalists attempting to report on government activities.

On September 14, Somaliland police detained freelance radio journalist Ilyas Abdi Ali, according to media sources, for a Facebook post calling for the release of Astaan TV CEO Abdimanan Yusuf (see section 1.d.).

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, although self-censorship was common due to a history of arbitrary arrest of journalists and the search and closure of media outlets that criticized the government. Reports of such interference occurred in Mogadishu and remained common outside the capital, particularly in Puntland and Somaliland. Government authorities maintained editorial control over state-funded media and limited the autonomy of private outlets through direct and indirect threats. Threats were often applied through unilateral actions of security and other institutions.

Somaliland authorities continued to fine and arbitrarily arrest journalists for defamation and other alleged crimes, including meeting with colleagues. Penalties included prison terms ranging from a few days to several months, and fines. Journalists were intimidated and imprisoned for conducting investigations into corruption or topics deemed sensitive, such as investment agreements regarding the Berbera Port or the conflict between Somaliland and Puntland over the disputed Sool and Sanaag regions.

Violence and Harassment: The National Union of Somali Journalists recorded two killings of journalists in the country during the year. Domestic media organizations reported regular harassment by the security forces, NISA, clan and other private groups, and al-Shabaab (see also section 1.d.).

Somaliland authorities also regularly harassed journalists through arbitrary detention when they reported on government shortcomings or union with Somalia, particularly in the Sool and Sanaag regions disputed with Puntland. On September 7, Las Anood Mayor Abdiaziz Hassan Tarwale reportedly ordered the detention of Saab TV reporter Abdifatah Mohamed Abdi in response to his reporting on the destructive floods that washed away sections of the town’s roads. On September 8, authorities detained Universal TV reporter Khadar Rigah, reportedly for covering a local businesswomen’s protest against the city’s demolition of business structures and increased imposition of taxes.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists engaged in rigorous self-censorship to avoid reprisals. Police forced one outlet in Barawe to cease broadcasting in a local dialect.

The publication Foore reopened after a one-year suspension imposed by a regional court in Somaliland for printing “false news and antinational propaganda” in a 2018 article concerning the construction of a new presidential palace. Somaliland authorities closed at least three outlets for their reporting, including Star TV and Universal TV in June.

Al-Shabaab banned journalists from reporting news that undermined Islamic law as interpreted by al-Shabaab and forbade persons in areas under its control from listening to international media outlets.

Libel/Slander Laws: Laws providing criminal penalties for publication of “false news” existed throughout the country, including Somaliland. The law criminalizes blasphemy and defamation of Islam, with punishments including cash fines, up to two years in prison, or both.

National Security: Federal and regional authorities frequently cited national security concerns to suppress media and other criticism and to prevent press coverage of opposition political figures.

Nongovernmental Impact: Clan militias, criminal organizations, and terrorist groups, foremost among them al-Shabaab, actively sought to inhibit freedom of expression, including for members of the press, when it suited their interests.

On May 4, Said Yusuf Ali, a reporter for privately owned Kalsan TV, was stabbed to death in Mogadishu by unknown assailants. Shortly before his death, Ali had reported on the killing of a teacher in an Islamic school by al-Shabaab fighters.

Authorities restricted access to the internet, but there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Al-Shabaab prohibited companies from providing access to the internet and forced telecommunications companies to shut data services in al-Shabaab-controlled areas.

There were no official restrictions on academic freedom, but academics practiced self-censorship.

Except in al-Shabaab-controlled areas, there were no official restrictions on attending cultural events, playing music, or going to the cinema. The security situation, however, effectively restricted access to and organization of cultural events in the southern and central regions.

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government limited this right. A general lack of security effectively limited this right as well. The federal Ministry of Internal Security continued to require that it approve all public gatherings, citing security concerns such as the risk of attack by al-Shabaab suicide bombers.

Political groups faced obstacles holding rallies, reportedly due to informal control by security forces of access to hotels and conference facilities. On November 29, opposition presidential candidates sent a request to the Ministry of Internal Security to hold an event with supporters on December 3 at a venue in Mogadishu. The government denied the request.

The government also used security forces to suppress peaceful political protests. On December 14, the government deployed security forces around Mogadishu to suppress planned protests by supporters of opposition presidential candidates against the incumbent president regarding implementation arrangements for the upcoming elections. Some protests nonetheless took place on December 15, with at least one devolving into violent clashes between unknown parties and federal forces, leaving at least four persons wounded. In response, the government deployed security forces to quell further demonstrations.

In April, Mogadishu municipal authorities restricted public gatherings and imposed a curfew to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The forceful imposition of restrictions prompted hundreds of demonstrators to protest in the streets, according to an international news report.

Al-Shabaab did not allow any gatherings without its prior consent.

The law provides for freedom of association, but government officials harassed NGO workers. There were also reports that regional authorities restricted freedom of association. Al-Shabaab did not allow most international NGOs to operate in areas it controlled.

Persons in the southern and central regions outside of al-Shabaab-controlled areas could freely join civil society organizations focusing on a wide range of problems.

In addition to security and safety concerns, humanitarian organizations faced significant interference from federal and state authorities that attempted to impose taxation and registration requirements and control contracting, procurement, and staffing.

In August, Somaliland authorities issued a directive to international organizations and NGOs mandating that development and humanitarian assistance providers de facto recognize the self-declared independent republic’s sovereignty and territorial claims. The directive also included articles on registration and asset management that, if fully implemented, would likely result in a significant disruption to humanitarian operations.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides that all persons lawfully residing in the country have the right to freedom of movement, to choose their residence, and to leave the country. Freedom of movement, however, was restricted in some areas, particularly in Somaliland.

In-country Movement: Checkpoints operated by government forces, allied groups, armed militias, clan factions, and al-Shabaab inhibited movement and exposed citizens to looting, extortion, harassment, and violence. Roadblocks manned by armed actors and attacks on humanitarian personnel severely restricted movement and the delivery of aid in southern and central sectors of the country.

Somaliland prohibited federal officials, including those of Somaliland origin who purported to represent Hargeisa’s interests in Mogadishu, from entering Somaliland. It also prevented its citizens from traveling to Mogadishu to participate in federal-government processes or cultural activities.

Al-Shabaab and other nonstate armed actors continued to hinder commercial activities in the areas they controlled in the Bakool, Bay, Gedo, and Hiraan regions, and impeded the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

In September and October al-Shabaab imposed movement restrictions on civilians and humanitarian actors in Gedo region’s Beled Hawo and Garbaharrey towns, hindering humanitarian health, nutrition, water, sanitation, and hygiene programming targeting approximately 100,000 persons.

As of August continuing conflict and climate shocks during the year led to an increase in internal displacement. The country was home to more than 2.7 million IDPs. More than 893,000 new displacements were recorded during the year, with 177,000 primarily conflict- or security-related and 716,000 caused by flooding. Acute food insecurity and malnutrition levels remained elevated among IDPs–including in comparison with nondisplaced residents–although their magnitude and severity were lower than projected.

UNHCR advocated for the protection of IDPs and provided some financial assistance, and Somalis who have returned from refugee camps abroad often move to IDP camps. Fewer than 1,000 refugees returned to the country during the year, and those who returned previously continue to require humanitarian assistance.

While government and regional authorities were more involved in the famine prevention and drought response than in prior years, their capacity to respond was extremely limited. In addition forced evictions of IDPs continued. Forced evictions remained a significant protection issue, and relief agencies recorded the redisplacement of nearly 98,000 IDPs between January and August. Humanitarian actors’ efforts likely prevented nearly 21,000 evictions between February and July, according to UNHCR. Private persons with claims to land and government authorities, for example, regularly pursued the forceful eviction of IDPs in Mogadishu.

Increased reports of gender-based violence accompanied increased displacement, including reports of abuses committed by various armed groups and security personnel. Women and children living in IDP settlements were particularly vulnerable to rape by armed men, including government soldiers and militia members. Gatekeepers in control of some IDP camps reportedly forced girls and women to provide sex in exchange for food and services within the settlements.

The government worked to implement policies approved in November 2019 to increase protections of vulnerable populations. The government at both the federal and municipal levels developed policies and frameworks that aim to protect the rights of IDPs and promote lasting, durable solutions for them, including through local integration in urban areas.

Federal government and Somaliland authorities cooperated with UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration to assist refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

The country hosted approximately 22,000 refugees and asylum seekers, primarily from Yemen and Ethiopia, with smaller numbers from other countries, including Syria, Tanzania, and Eritrea. Economic migrants also use the country as a transit corridor en route to the Gulf, Yemen, and Europe, which exposes them to exploitation and abuse, primarily by human traffickers.

As of September 30, UNHCR supported the return of 331 Somali refugees from countries of asylum. A further 447 Somalis were registered as having returned from Yemen without the support of UNHCR during the same period. There were frequent disruptions in return movements to Somalia due to continuing violence and conflict. On December 5, a UNHCR-supported voluntary repatriation program from Kenya restarted, targeting 300 refugee returnees by the end of the year.

Access to Asylum: The law recognizes the right to asylum in accordance with international treaties; however, the federal government had no legal framework or system to provide protection to refugees on a consistent basis. Authorities, however, granted prima facie status to Yemenis while most other nationalities underwent individual refugee status determination procedures.

Employment: Employment opportunities were limited for refugees. Refugees often engaged in informal manual labor that sometimes exposed them to abuses from members of the host community.

Refugee returnees from Kenya reported limited employment opportunities in the southern and central sections of the country, consistent with high rates of unemployment throughout the country.

Access to Basic Services: The government continued to work with the international community to improve access to basic services, employment, and durable solutions for displaced populations, although this remained a challenge primarily due to security, lack of political will, and financial constraints.

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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future