Upon meeting Abdalle Mumin, nothing about him reveals the weight that he has carried on his shoulders since he was a young boy. He grew up in one of Somalia’s camps for displaced persons after his family was uprooted from home following the collapse of the government in the early nineties.
Abdalle’s journey into journalism began when he was a young man in the camp.
“My whole life has been in IDP camps for as long as I can remember. I have witnessed all forms of marginalization and violations against vulnerable communities, women and girls in the IDP camps as well as food being stolen by powerful clan militia. That is when I decided to become a journalist — not to gain fame but to speak out against injustices,” says Abdalle.
I decided to become a journalist — not to gain fame but to speak out against injustices,Abdalle Mumin, Secretary General, Somali Journalists Syndicate
Now an adult, he remains dedicated to fighting injustice.
It was my first-time meeting Abdalle Mumin in person. Six months earlier, as the new media manager for Amnesty International’s East and Southern Africa Regional Office, I had put out a press release on his situation. On 11 October 2022, Abdalle was arrested at the Aden Adde airport as he prepared to leave for Nairobi.
A roller coaster of events followed, culminating in Abdalle being detained at the Mogadishu Central Prison on 23 February, where he was held for 33 days. During his time in detention, while the world fought for his release, Abdalle continued to work as a journalist behind bars, documenting various human rights abuses.
His detention, however, seriously affected his family, especially his seven-year-old daughter.
“My kids were worried about my condition. My daughter recounted to me how she was walking home, and she felt angry about the injustice that I have suffered. I am a victim of injustice and human rights violations,” he says, with tears in his eyes.
Amnesty International’s advocacy work on his release kept him going, even when he felt like giving up.
“Even in detention, I could hear the news about what Amnesty International and others were saying about my case. I knew there were efforts to get me out — it gave me emotional strength,” he adds.
In 2015, due to his work as a critical journalist, he had to flee for his life and go to live in exile in Kenya, where he stayed for three years. But he still wondered how journalists in Somalia could work freely to expose injustices and amplify the voices of marginalized groups back home.
If you want to shut the civic space, you attack journalists, and that is what is happening now in Somalia.Abdalle Mumin
In May 2019, he co-founded the Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS), an organization that speaks out for Somali journalists and defends the freedom of the press.
In May 2022, Somalia held presidential elections ushering in President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud. Abdalle says journalists in the country were expecting human rights reforms? — but these were not forthcoming.
“If you want to shut the civic space, you attack journalists, and that is what is happening now in Somalia. If you want to silence journalists, you target the most vocal ones. That’s why I was targeted,” he says.
In 2022, SJS documented an increase in cases of human rights violations against journalists in Somalia. He says journalists are leaving the country due to the repressive laws, tough conditions, and threat of reprisals, but not everyone is able to leave.
“For those who cannot leave, self-censorship has become their self defence mechanism. Most journalists have decided to keep a low profile for now. They no longer report on sensitive issues, including allegations of corruption-related stories and human rights violations. They feel helpless.”
While the situation has affected how journalists work in Somalia, Abdalle’s mind remains clear. He is more determined than ever to continue his advocacy work, which aims to protect and support his fellow journalists.
“Journalists are saviours — they save lives,” he says. “They must continue what they are doing. Their work is important. I will never be intimidated into silence.”
This blog first ran in Kenya’s People Daily.