Refusing to Stay Silent on Media Directives, Somali Journalist Goes on Trial


The old maxim that “the pen is mightier than the sword” couldn’t be more appropriate when it comes to Somali journalist Abdalle Ahmed Mumin.

As a child, Abdalle lost his arm in a militia attack. Determined to still write, he had to teach himself to do so with his left hand.

The clan fighting that maimed Abdalle killed his 11-year-old brother as the siblings walked home together from school.

At that time, the family were living in a refugee camp in Mogadishu, and the daily human rights violations and unfairness that Abdalle witnessed there set him on his career path as a journalist.

“Whenever there was food distribution the militia would come and loot that food and my mind was always asking me, when I grow up what can I do?” Abdalle told VOA. “Every day I used to buy a newspaper. I said, the best way to fight injustices is to become a journalist.”

But now the 37-year-old, whose work has appeared in international outlets including the The Guardian and The Wall Street Journal, is in his own fight for justice.

He is accused of publicly disobeying a government directive and holding a press conference that criticized the directive.

The Ministry of Information in a statement in October denied the charges are related to Abdalle’s work as journalist. But press freedom groups say the charges are spurious

Country in conflict

The case against Abdalle is linked with Somalia’s long battle with militancy.

Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militant group al-Shabab has been waging a brutal insurgency for about 15 years. The militant group sees journalists who work for Western media as spies and often targets them.

In 2015, Abdalle survived an assassination attempt when militants shot at his car. He took his family and fled to neighboring Kenya, where they lived for several years.

Ultimately though, Abdalle couldn’t keep away from what he felt was his calling. He returned and helped form the Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS).

Set up to defend the rights of working journalists, the independent trade union provides support and training, and is vocal in its defense of media rights.

Which is why it went into action in October last year when Somalia’s Ministry of Information published a directive that “prohibited dissemination of extremism ideology messages, both from official media broadcasts and social media.”

The ministry ban covered messages sent “intentionally or unintentionally, directly or indirectly and consciously or unconsciously.” Officials later told journalists to refer to al-Shabab as “khawarij,” which means “a deviation from Islam.”

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