August 2023 | Somalia bans social media platforms TikTok and Telegram
On 20 August, Somalia’s government issued an order indefinitely banning popular social media platforms TikTok and Telegram, alongside an online betting app 1xBet. The order, which came into effect on 24 August, cited concerns about the use of the platforms by terrorists (the al-Shabab militant group regularly uses Telegram’s messaging service to publish its videos press releases) and ‘groups spreading immorality’. As part of its ‘total war’ against al-Shabab, the government has recently tightened restrictions on traditional media and was reported to have shut down dozens of social media accounts, but this is the first time it has cut off access to social media platforms. Rights groups have stated that total bans on social media platforms represent disproportionate restrictions on freedom of expression and breach international human rights standards.
June 2023 | Fighting erupts in Puntland as parliament debates electoral changes
At least 26 people were reported to have died in fighting that erupted on 20 June in Somalia’s semi-autonomous state of Puntland, as its parliament debated constitutional changes intended to further the state’s ongoing transition to direct elections. Up until May 2023, when it held its first direct local elections, Puntland had used an indirect, clan-based electoral system. The fighting was between the state’s security forces and fighters loyal to the political opposition, who accuse Puntland’s President Said Abdullahi of using electoral reform to hold onto power. Such mistrust between the political elite has hindered the state’s long-delayed transition to universal suffrage, and analysts believe that it could impede progress towards holding direct elections for Puntland’s state parliament and presidency and for federal offices.
May 2023 | First state-wide direct elections held in Puntland
On 25 May, voters in the Somalian state of Puntland went to the polls to elect their district councils, in what were the first state-wide direct elections since Puntland’s establishment in 1998 (direct local elections were held in three of Puntland’s districts in 2021). Like much of Somalia, Puntland has used an indirect, clan-based electoral system to select its political representatives. Media reports suggested that voting took place peacefully, notwithstanding the security concerns that led to the postponement of polling in three districts. These concerns arose from a dispute between Puntland’s President Said Abdullahi Deni and members of the political opposition, who accused him of manipulating the elections. Of the seven political parties that participated, the ruling Kaah party won the largest number of seats (286 out of 774). Seventeen per cent of seats were won by female candidates, down from the 26 per cent of women who won seats in the 2021 local elections.
March 2023 | New national security laws threaten human rights
In March, Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud signed into law two pieces of national security legislation that legislators and human rights experts say could be used to repress political opponents and the media. The first, the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) Act, establishes a legal framework for the country’s intelligence agency, but according to NGO Human Rights Watch, its broad and vague wording grants the agency sweeping powers and jurisdiction with minimal independent oversight. Reports that NISA has arbitrarily detained and tortured journalists and opponents have fuelled concerns that the framework is inadequate to check such abuse and may be used to justify it. Similar criticisms have been made about the second piece of legislation, the Anti-Terrorism Act, which provides the legal framework for the country’s counter-terrorism actions.