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Journalists in Mogadishu barred from carrying cellphones into election hall

Sunday May 15, 2022

Mogadishu (HOL) - Independent Local and international journalists in Mogadishu are being denied entry to the Afisioni tent, where 328 lawmakers are gathered on Sunday to elect the next president of Somalia if they refuse to leave their electronic devices outside the voting venue.

However, after queuing up for several hours, journalists are being allowed entry into the election venue with just their laptops. Their phones have been deposited with security officials outside the gate, and they cannot retrieve them until the elections are over.

The independent journalist union SJS said that they are concerned by the obstruction of local and intentional journos from accessing the election venue, adding that such acts are against the Somali constitution, which guarantees the right to access to information.

"We call for the Somali committee in charge of elections to give journalists full access to the election venue so they could report freely. We affirm that free and pluralistic media is the foundation of a healthy and democratic society." The union said.

Independent media were denied access to Afisioni Tent earlier this week when presidential candidates made their speeches to lawmakers.

The Parliamentary Committee on Presidential Election previously said that all independent journalists would not be allowed in the venue and instructed to follow the elections from TV screens installed outside the voting hall. However, the independent journalists and the private media groups objected to the decision, insisting that they should be given the same level of access as state-run media.

On Friday, media groups met with Parliamentary Speaker Sheikh Adan Madobe, who gave assurances that independent media would be allowed to cover the elections without bias.

EPA Photographer Said Yusuf Warsame said journalists would refuse to cover the election if they could not retain their phones and laptops. He added that journalists would not file their reports for the election - which has been dogged with allegations of vote-buying -  until much after their deadlines and that the Somali public would suffer if officials and security had their way.

"We had covered the last five elections when the security situation was terrible, and journalists were still allowed to enter polling stations with their laptops and phones. We do not know why journalists are being denied to enter the venue with their phones and laptops today. We believe that the committee responsible for the presidential election is planning something behind closed doors", said AP photographer Farah Abdi Warsame.

Media rights groups argue that the September 17 agreement - which was reached by the country's five regional state leaders, the mayor of Mogadishu, and the Prime Minister - allowed independent media to cover the indirect elections. They added that the election commission's refusal to allow private media into the voting hall violated the electoral political agreement.

The incumbent president Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo faces 36 opponents in the vote, including two former presidents, Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who analysts see as the frontrunners. However, it is not uncommon for the 'dark horse' to emerge as the victor in Somalia's presidential elections.



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