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Somaliland: 7 journalists arrested in a week, 3 still held

President Ahmed Mohamoud Silyano pledged to improve press freedom conditions in Somaliland during his 2010 election campaign. (AP/Teresa Krug)

New York, January 13, 2012-- The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the recent spate of arrests of independent reporters in the semi-autonomous republic of Somaliland

At least seven journalists have been arrested since last week, with three still in custody without being charged, local journalists said. According to Somaliland's constitution, a judge can authorize police to hold a suspect without charge for up to 21 days for further investigations.

"The spate of arrests sends a chilling message to the Somaliland press and demonstrates the government's intolerance of independent and critical reporting," said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. "Arrest and detention should not be the knee-jerk response of the authorities to reporting. The journalists should be charged or released immediately."

Somaliland authorities have detained Royal Television reporter Yusuf Ali (also known as "Indho Quru") without charge in the northwestern town of Borama since Sunday based on a complaint filed against him by the Africa Youth Development Association (AYODA), a local NGO, news reports said. The journalist had reported on the group's alleged misuse of funds, local journalists said.  On Tuesday, a magistrate approved a police petition to extend Ali's detention for an additional 45-day period pending investigations, Royal TV reporter Mohamed Abdi Kahin, also known as "Bosh," told CPJ. He also said the court session lasted only minutes and that no witnesses were present.

On Wednesday, authorities in Borama detained Ali Ismail Aare, a journalist with the independent weekly Waheen, the Somaliland Journalists Association (SJA) reported. Aare was arrested after he took photographs of a gas station and building belonging to Somaliland Vice President Abdirahman Abdilahi, which residents complained was built incorrectly and encroached upon roads in the town, leaving no room for traffic or pedestrians, according to local journalists. Barkhad Mohamoud, SJA's executive member, said taking photographs of an edifice owned by a public official is not a criminal offense under Somaliland law, according to local journalists. The journalist has not been charged yet, news reports said, but he is expected in court on Saturday.

On Monday, Somaliland police arrested Abdiqani Hassan Farah ("Gadari"), a reporter for Universal TV in the Las Anod district of Sool region, news reports said. Local journalists said Farah had reported on a clan dispute.

Four other journalists were also arrested in Somaliland in the past week, but detained for only a short time. On Wednesday, Borama police's Criminal Investigation Department detained for questioning Mohamed Omar Sheikh, a reporter with the independent weekly Sahafi, Omar later told CPJ. The arrest was based on a complaint filed by members of the public regarding interviews published in Sahafi by Omar of members of the Somali diaspora calling for the Awdal region to separate from Somaliland. Police released Omar on bail on Thursday morning, he told CPJ.

Last week, Somaliland police arrested three journalists from private broadcasters Horn Cable TV, Somaliland TV, and Universal TV in the disputed Las Anod region of Somaliland for allegedly supporting youth groups who pose a threat to security in the region, according to local reports. Police released all three journalists the following day, local journalists said.

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