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Counter-terrorism legislation could suppress free expression in Somalia

The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) has expressed concern over the amended counter-terrorism legislation – which was passed by the Council of Ministers on 10 July – as it could threaten the already tenuous protection for free expression.

“We believe that it is the duty of the Federal Government to fight against terrorism, but that respecting freedom of expression in that framework is possible and constitutes a national and international obligation of the Somali government” said Omar Faruk Osman, NUSOJ Secretary General.

On 18 April 2013, Somalia's Council of Ministers approved a new counter-terrorism legislation intended to fight terrorism comprehensively while taking responsibility of the security of Somali people.

NUSOJ, which received copy of the legislation, raised concerns with the then Minister of Interior and National Security, Abdikarim Hussein Guled, and through dialogue, the union was asked to submit comments on the draft legislation with regard to safeguarding freedom of expression.

The Ministry of National Security took into consideration a number of suggestions made by the union and included them in the legislation. But still, several provisions are vaguely phrased and the definition of “terrorist” was even widened.

The union is particularly concerned that activities like media coverage of terrorist groups' activities could be interpreted as “supporting a terrorist organisation.” The legislation grants the police, the secret intelligence service and other government agencies greater powers over anyone considered a “terror suspect.”

The union fears that counter-terrorism legislation could be used to justify violations of the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression under the shroud of national security and public order.

Without sufficient explanation, phrases like “disturb the peace”, “jeopardize the safety and security of society” and “create fear in people's lives” could be used to suppress freedom of expression and other fundamental human rights.

“We are worried [that] these vaguely phrased prohibitions criminalise the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression and have a real chilling effect on debate on matters of public interest,” declared Osman.

To ensure compatibility between respect for human rights and the fight against terrorism, NUSOJ urges the parliament and the government to further amend the current counter-terrorism legislation based on the requirements of international human rights law, and in particular take into account the requirements relating to the definition of the crime of terrorism.

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