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Puntland: Media Stakeholders agree on decisive and urgent actions to establish an enabling environment for Journalism practice as Peace council 1 conference concludes.

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Garowe, MAY 7, 2018 – Twenty five representatives drawn from the Puntland Media, Puntland Police Force, Intelligence officials, Puntland Non State Actors Association , Puntland Bar Association, Judiciary, Office of the Attorney General and the Office Puntland Human Rights Defender in Garowe were invited by the Media Association of Puntland (MAP) to attend a two-day Media and Security Stakeholder’s conference (Peace Council I) from the 2-3 May 2018 held at the PDRC hall.

This colourful conference is aligned with the Free Press Unlimited (FPU) lead EUaid supported program titled ‘’Our right to know’’-Somali Media and Civil Society for Accountability and Social Change.

The purpose of this forum was aimed at initiating dialogue between Media and security stakeholders, raise awareness on the harsh environment in which Puntland Journalists operate, and to establish a draft common action plan to address the issue of the safety of journalists, and issues of impunity in Puntland.

The opening session was chaired by the Puntland State Ministry of Information, Abdifatah Nur Ashkir, in the presence of the Puntland Police commissioner – Brigadier General Abdullahi Shire Dool, the MAP chair Mohamed Dahir Warsame, the PDRC director – Ali Farah, Puntland CID chief Ibrahim Ali Hassan and the Puntland Human right independent office head – Mohamed Ali Yusuf.

MAP chair, Mohamed Dahir Warsame, in his opening remarks welcomed the participants, thanked them for their acceptance to MAP’s invitation on participating this important conference. The chair introduced the participants on the objectives of the conference and urged participants to actively participate with respect in the debates.

On the objectives the chair said ”the overall objective of this conference is to sensitize the stakeholders on the growing dangers and emerging threats to media professionals in Puntland and seek a common ground that enables free, fair and independent Media practice in the most safest way with zero meddling or censorship from any person or government institutions’‘ , chair added, this conference is designed to open dialogue between the media and security agencies in Puntland, we hope to have a constructive debate and listen to all parties attending this meeting while respecting each others’ mandate and clear the differences in the benefit of our citizens as both police and Media serve the same Puntland citizens!

The newly appointed (JAN.25.2018) Puntland Commissioner Brigadier Gen. Abdullahi Dool Shire who spoke at the opening session described the conference as a vital event that will allow both the police and media to openly their concerns and hopefully come to a conclusion that would serve us a healthy working relations. The Police chief noted that both police and media serve the same communities but may differ on duties but both need to work in a professional way that serves in Public interest.

Police chief in his opening remarks promised to protect the rights of journalists and has demanded a strong collaboration between the police and the media.
”On behalf of the Puntland police I promise to respect the rights of journalists unless the journalist commits a proven crime, i will not tolerate any illegal attack against the rights of journalists or media house without a lawfully justifiable evidence, adding, i would like to thank MAP for organizing this important meeting and urge participants to have an open discussions and address challenges faced with the intention to come closer and establish a healthy working environment” said Gen. Dool

Police chief also said ”The police will only take action against a journalist only if the journalist is caught in crime act or if orders come from the state leadership” said Brigadier Gen. Dool

The police chief wasn’t clear on who exactly he referred to ”leadership” , but recounting past experiences on arbitral cases where journalists were illegally arrested, jailed without an arrest warrant and later released without trial were ordered by the Puntland Presidential office and from the Puntland Ministry of information, technology, culture and heritage.

The latter quote from the Police chief was a disturbing one and a a revelational approval on cases based on previous experiences in reference to arbitrary** arrests of Puntland Journalists that MAP has advocated against. 90% of the illegal detentions from 2015 to 2017 were Journalists were hand-picked by Police officers with no arrest warrants and majority of the arrest orders came from either the Puntland President’s office or the Puntland Ministry of information, technology, culture and heritage.

The Puntland State Ministry of Information, Abdifatah Nur Ashkir, who gave a spotlight on the main reasons behind the differences between the police and Media noted that both parties bypass the utilization of laws while performing their work.
”I believe that both the police and the media do not apply the law requirements when performing their duties and that is why we have repeatedly seen police and journalist collide, he added, it is important to say that whoever commits crimes against the law from both groups get fined and their leaderships need to sensitize their employers on the application of laws and lawful procedures in their duties to getting into troubles or illegally taking action” , said the Puntland State Ministry of Information.

The Minister then officially opened the conference and expressed support to the objective of the conference and pledged support to the outcomes of the conference while thanking MAP for organizing this conference.

Following the official opening of the conference, the facilitator, Salim Saed, a seasoned trainer and a law professional took stage and lead the conference activities throughout the 2days. The topics covered during the period were:
* Best practices in addressing arbitrary detention of journalists;
* Best practices in addressing the protection of information sources and accessing government information sources;
* Impunity of perpetrators of crimes against journalists and targeted suspension of media operations in Puntland;
* Addressing the protection of classified National security information;
* The global UN action plan for addressing journalists and the issue of impunity;
* Establishment the Puntland security committee for the protection of journalists;and
* Presenting a draft action plan for Puntland stakeholders to revise and adopt.

The presentations provoked a heated discussion especially on the topic of ”Impunity of perpetrators of crimes against journalists and targeted suspension of media operations in Puntland”. The arrest of Journalist Jama Deperani back in November 2015 was among the cases examined in terms of its legality on procedure of arrest, pre-trial detention and the release of Journalist without trail.

The police officials present at the conference’s discussions also raised concerns on several news reports that to them was unethical, below journalistic standards and a times the reports were threat to the national interest. Journalists were blamed on broadcasting biased reports and not being professional.

Despite the bitterness of the discussions all parties in the debates were given equal opportunity and deliberated their differences in an intellectual manner without compromising each other’s integrity and independence.

The following have been identified as the areas of concerns that seek attention;
* Ethical Standards: Journalists need to heightened their ethical standards when performing their duties – the conference has called for trainings on ethics for Journalists.
* Higher Advocacy: In order to halt orders coming from top state officials, there is an immediate need to advocate against commands that demand to arrest a journalist without a court warrant, bypassing legal arrest procedures.
* Awareness raising: There is a need to raise awareness through capacity building workshops for law enforcement officers on freedom of expression and Media indepence.

On the last day of the conference, which was also the World press freedom day 2018, a call to action was introduced to the assembled participants which included a proposal of a ”volunteer Puntland Journalist safety committee”. The MAP chair and the Conference facilitator in turns explained the the importance of this committee, structure and a draft action plan. Participants were invited to give comments on the committee structure as well as the action plan.

Following the feedback and deliberations on the call to action, participants approved the following volunteers to appointed as the Puntland Journalist safety committee;
 Ahmed Awil Jama – Radio Garowe Director
 Faysal Ahmed Warsame – Chair PUNSAA

 Osman Maneno – Deputy CID chief Puntland
 Fartuun Ali Mohamed (Liig) – Chair Puntland Women lawyers Association

The purpose of this joint media-police-civil society cooperation committee of this sort is aimed at composing a medium that will build confidence in Journalists who encounter severe threats to report to the police; the committee will also alert Journalists and media institutions on possible risks in advance; Speed-up investigations of cases reported to the police by journalists and Media houses and will raise awareness and recommend solutions to improve the safety of journalists to the government and Media Association of Puntland.

Puntland deputy chief of the criminal investigation department (CID) Osman Maneno who gave an interview to the US based VOA Somali service regard the conference, said ” It was an important occassion to analyze and listen to the problems that media has encoutered especially the way police has dealt with the journalists, both sides have acknowledged the challenges and concerns raised, the outcomes of the meeting shows a strengthened cooperation between the security agencies and the media with the establishment of the Journalist committee”

The MAP chair who was thankful to the participants on their contributions to the conference and the deliberation made called for the participants to participate in the implementation face of the call to action said ”A pledge has been made. Redeeming of the pledge will highly depend on the way the call to action is implemented, especially the performance of the Puntland Journalist Safety committee. Adding, MAP will continue mobilizing the stakeholders on implementing the agreed call to action prior to the next Peace Council II conference that will be held early November this year’ , MAP chair at his closing remarks.

Puntland’s Minister of Information, Abdi Hirsi Qarjab, who officially closed the conference approved the outcomes of the conference and pledged support towards the implementation of the outcomes. He said the government was committed to defending and respecting the work of the journalist, adding that the MAP and the Puntland Journalists should continue promoting peace and security in Somalia while performing their duties.

A follow-up conference is scheduled on the 1-2 November 2018. This program is part of series of activities supported by the Free Press Unlimited under the EU Aid programs.

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Photos of the conference:

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