UNESCO supports Launch of Network of Somali lawyers to defend journalists

UNESCO supported the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) to launch the first-ever network of media lawyers capacitated to defend journalists and news media organisations who need legal aid, because of the nature of their work in Somalia. The network was launched on the final day of a training workshop for Somali lawyers who will be providing legal protection for journalists.

The training workshop, which was held from 24 to 28 August 2021 in Mogadishu, focused on ensuring that lawyers are equipped with the tools needed to promote fundamental rights related to media freedom in Somalia based on international and regional legal standards. This workshop was aligned to national and international frameworks on freedom of expression and its corollaries, access to information and press freedom.

The Chief Justice of Somalia and the President of Supreme Court Honourable Bashe Yusuf Ahmed officiated at the training and congratulated UNESCO and NUSOJ for spearheading such a momentous capacity-building initiative.

Honourable Bashe Yusuf Ahmed further promised to ensure the integration of modules on freedom of expression and safety of journalists in judges’ training curriculum: “I assure you of our cooperation with NUSOJ and international partners like UNESCO to legally safeguard media freedom and protect journalists. We shall include in the curriculum of the institute of judges and lawyers an important component on freedom of expression standards and safety of journalists, in order to inculcate an appreciation of freedom of expression, press freedom and defence of journalists, among our judges and lawyers.” He added.

This training programme attracted fifteen (15) lawyers (12 men and 3 females), as well as senior judicial authorities and officials drawn from Puntland, Southwest, Jubaland, Galmudug, Hirshabelle and Banadir (Mogadishu) who came together to learn, discuss and collaborate on how best to defend journalists and their right to media freedom. The participants were taken through topics such as defamation law, international law and freedom of expression (offline and online), media law, the right to privacy, national security and state secrets, public order and morality, and judicial proceedings including the right to fair trial and access to information.

The trained lawyers also improved their knowledge of international legal standards and regional human rights mechanisms, such as the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, with practical tips on how to litigate before these mechanisms.

Mr. Omar Faruk Osman, Secretary General of National Union of Somali Journalists stated that no training should take place in a vacuum and the impact of the efforts are only evident once lawyers are supported to utilise the knowledge they have received. He noted that NUSOJ was therefore encouraged by the Chief Justice’s reassurances of improved cooperation between journalists and the judiciary in Somalia. He said: “The results of this very timely training will ultimately lead to an increased number of journalists and/or news media organizations who face threats, attacks, restrictions or judicial pressures, able to access pro-bono legal assistance.” He further added: “This remains critical in our country where the risks of working in a media industry are extremely high and too often, deadly. Journalists and news media organisations need to know there is a pool of capable and well-informed professionals available to defend their rights if and when required.”

The trained lawyers, who will closely work with the Journalist Legal Defence Unit (JOLED) established by NUSOJ through UNESCO support, also studied cases that could be pursued before domestic and/or international fora. This level of analysis provides precedence for the constitutionality of independent reporting, criminal defamation as a violation of the right to freedom of expression, legal action against closures, bans and suspensions of media houses, and how to argue strongly for the end of impunity for crimes against journalists.

Mr. Andrea Cairola, Programme Specialist at UNESCO Section for Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists assured participants of UNESCO continued support to strengthening the capacities of judicial actors in Africa to protect and defend freedom of expression.

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