Amnesty International accuses Somalia’s government of creating teams of online monitors who troll journalists and report them to Facebook standards enforcers to disable their accounts and silence critical media voices.
The Western-backed government in Mogadishu detained 38 journalists last year, setting a national annual record, the Somali Journalists Syndicate said, raising concerns ahead of a parliamentary election later this year.
Efforts by government censors are paying off, with 10 Facebook accounts of journalists shut in a single day, the London-based watchdog said in a new report on the state of media freedom in Somalia.
All were told by Facebook their accounts violated community standards, without specific reasons.
The Somali government rejected the Amnesty report, which detailed other abuse of the freedom of the press, including beatings and detention of journalists.
“Somalia will continue the rule of law which includes media freedom,” the ministry of information said in a statement.
Some journalists detailed how online accounts were suspended.
“My Facebook account was frozen on 16th June 2019. My WhatsApp was frozen on 21st June 2019,” Ali Aden Mumin, a reporter for local Goobjoog radio and TV, told Reuters.
Mumin, who fled to Turkey after receiving threats from Somali security forces, told Reuters he was beaten and arrested several times.
Facebook declined to specify reasons for each suspension, citing privacy concerns.
“The community standards we use to determine violations are based on global standards,” said Mercy Ndegwa, head of public policy at Facebook for the East and the Horn of Africa.
Amnesty International researcher Abdullahi Hassan said some Facebook accounts targeted for closure had up to 60,000 followers, in a country where many use the platform to keep abreast of developments.
Newly set up social media-monitoring teams housed in the offices of the president, the prime minister and the information minister made it easier to crack down on journalists online, Amnesty said.
Teams observe content posted by reporters and ask them to remove posts critical of government. If they refuse, they are arrested, Hassan said.
“They are arrested and given a file of content they shared on Facebook. They are told you remove this content or we will prosecute or hang you,” he said.