Attacks on the Press 1999: Somalia

Ever since political rivals ousted President Mohammed Siad Barre in 1991, clan warfare has left Somalia without a central government. The country’s media consists largely of small newsletters and faction-run radio stations, and independent journal-ism is virtually nonexistent in most parts of the country.

Somalia is largely fractured into warring fiefdoms controlled by warlords. This political anarchy has been compounded by the spillover of the Ethiopia Ð Eritrea war, with both countries backing rival Somali factions to further their own agendas.

In the warlord Hussein Aidid’s territory in southern Mogadishu, the Voice of the People radio station generally broadcasts anti-Ethiopia propaganda, often accusing Ethiopia of sending its troops into Somalia. Journalists working in the territory are ordered to report only Aidid’s version of events, and those who provide more-objective coverage run grave personal risks. BBC stringer Yussuf Hassan Moalim was repeatedly harassed and threatened by Aidid’s heavily armed bodyguards over what they saw as “unfavorable” coverage of the Ethiopia issue. According to the BBC, Moalim, who is based outside Somalia, eventually decided not to return, fearing for his life.

In northeastern Somalia, the self-declared autonomous region of Puntland, under the leadership of Colonel Abdullahi Yusuf, was also highly sensitive to media criticism. The August arrest and detention of three journalists from the newspapers Sahan and Riyaq was just one example; there were other reports of arrested journalists, which CPJ was unable to corroborate owing to extremely poor communications throughout Somalia.

On November 23, the BBC reported that Bille Mahmud Qaboobe, editor of the newspaper Yool, had been sentenced to three months in jail by a court in the Puntland capital of Boosaaso. The editor was apparently “accused of publishing information unfavorable to the Puntland administration.” According to other sources, Qaboobe and two other detained journalists were soon released because of pressure from their respective clan and subclan elders.

Also in November, the Puntland administration reportedly issued a media decree requiring both local and international journalists working in areas under its control to register with the Ministry of Information. The decree stipulated that journalists “can only exercise their business under the full authority and permission of the Puntland administration.”

Journalists also faced problems in the breakaway Somaliland Republic, under the leadership of President Mohammed Ibrahim Egal. Somaliland’s only independent Somali-language daily, Jamhuriya, routinely criticized the local government in print. As a result, the paper was threatened, harassed, and denied access to official information.

August 2
Abdulkadir Ali, Sahan IMPRISONED
Mohamed Deeq, Sahan IMPRISONED
Ahmed Mohamed Ali, Riyaq IMPRISONED

Authorities in Somalia’s autonomous Puntland State ordered the arrest of editors Ali and Deeq, of the private weekly Sahan, and reporter Mohamed Ali, of the independent newspaper Riyaq, in retaliation for the journalists’ criticism of their human-rights practices. No official charges were pressed. Deeq was released three days later, Ali four days after him, and Mohamed Ali after nine days in detention.