NAIROBI - Somalia’s Western-backed government forces beat and detained a record number of journalists last year, the journalists’ syndicate told Reuters, prompting suggestions the govt is suppressing scrutiny of its security record ahead of elections due this year. For years, the al-Qaeda linked al Shabaab insurgency was accused of killing Somali journalists. Those assassinations have fallen, although two journalists were among those killed in a bombing last year.

Now media say they face a new danger: govt forces. State security forces detained an “unprecedented” 38 journalists in Somalia last year, according to data compiled by Abdalle Ahmed Mumin, secretary general of the Somali Journalists Syndicate. Most were detained while reporting on bombings or insurgent attacks but some were reporting on corruption. That compares to 16 journalists detained in 2017, 12 in 2016, and six in 2016, the year before dual U.S.-Somali citizen President Mohamed Abdullahi - known by his nickname Farmajo - took power, Mumin said. “The government is not allowing journalists to report,” he said. Officials rarely release casualty figures from incidents like Saturday’s truck bomb, which killed around 90 people.

 In most cases journalists are not charged and are released after hours or days, according to his report, due to be released next week. Last year, 37 journalists were beaten, shot at or threatened at gunpoint in Somalia, mostly by state security forces, the report said. The figures do not include the breakaway republic of Somaliland.