Journalists face violence and lawlessness in Somalia, which has had no effective central government since the fall of dictator Siad Barre in 1991. The self-declared autonomous region of Puntland in the northeast, and the self-declared republic of Somaliland in the northwest, are relatively stable compared with the south, most of which remains in the hands of rival clan-based leaders. Peace and reconciliation talks aimed at reuniting Somalia under a federal government continued in Kenya in 2004, but Somaliland refused to join the negotiations.
Some hope emerged in August, when, after nearly two years of talks, the peace conference established a transition Parliament for the country. Parliament subsequently elected Puntland strongman Abdullahi Yusuf as Somalia’s new president; Yusuf, in turn, appointed a leader from another major clan as prime minister and promised to work for reconciliation. Still, the new president and his advisers had yet to come to the capital, Mogadishu, to govern by year’s end because of security concerns. Local journalists expressed concern that Yusuf had a record of repressing the media as president of Puntland.
Journalists in southern Somalia face frequent threats, harassment, assaults, and imprisonment at the hands of rival factions, but the Somali Journalists Network (SOJON) says many more attacks go unreported because journalists fear further reprisals.
Abshir Ali Gabre, news editor of independent station Radio Jawhar, was twice detained on the orders of faction leader Mohamed Dhere over reports criticizing Dhere’s position on the Kenya peace talks. Dhere is chairman of the self-appointed administration in Jawhar, north of Mogadishu. Radio Jawhar, the only station in the region, was censored regularly by Dhere, whose militia paid frequent visits to the outlet’s offices, SOJON reported.
In September, Abdiqani Sheik Mohamed, a correspondent for the private Mogadishu-based Radio Banadir, was detained and beaten by militiamen loyal to Dhere on the main road of Jawhar. The attack came after Radio Banadir had broadcast a report by Abdiqani Sheik about a dispute over the management of a Jawhar mosque, according to SOJON. Dhere’s administration then issued a decree that same month banning Abdiqani Sheik from practicing journalism.
Other factions attacked the press as well. In June, militiamen loyal to Muse Sudi Yalahow detained journalist Abdirahman Ali Subiye of Holy Koran Radio in Mogadishu for taking pictures of them at talks intended to mediate a conflict with a rival militia. Yalahow’s militia confiscated and destroyed Subiye’s camera, accused the journalist of being a spy for Yalahow’s rival, and beat him with their guns.
Rogue violence is less common in Somaliland and Puntland, but authorities there are often intolerant of the independent press. In April, Puntland authorities imprisoned Abdishakur Yusuf Ali, editor of the independent weekly War-Ogaal (Knowledgeable), for more than a month after the paper published an article accusing the region’s finance minister of corruption. Abdishakur was sentenced to six months in prison for “publishing false information,” but SOJON and local human rights groups successfully pressured authorities to reduce the sentence to a fine.
In January, two journalists working for Mogadishu-based radio stations were arrested and detained for about eight hours in the Puntland city of Garowe. Ali Bashi Mohammed Haji of Radio Banadir and Mohammed Sadak Abdi Guunbe of Radio Shabelle were finally released without charge. Local sources said the journalists were suspected of filing stories for their stations on sensitive topics, including a border dispute between Puntland and Somaliland; Somaliland and Puntland each claim the Sool and Sanaag regions.
Somaliland declared independence in 1991, but it is still seeking international recognition. Journalists say press freedom has improved slightly there, with growing public awareness and slightly greater government tolerance. However, authorities still prohibit private radio stations, and they continue to harass independent journalists. Press, human rights, and opposition groups successfully lobbied for the removal of several repressive clauses in a new press law passed in the region in January.
Among the deleted provisions was one that would have barred media “interference” in politics, religion, and culture. Journalists face criminal sanctions for defamation, publishing false information, and “offending the honor or prestige of the head of state.”
Somaliland journalists say that sensitive subjects include the border dispute with Puntland, government corruption, and relations with the south. In August, police arrested Hassan Said Yusuf, editor of the independent Somali-language daily Jamhuuriya (The Republican), after he published an article about the Somaliland government’s stance on the peace talks. The article suggested that Somaliland’s main opposition party, Kulmiye, took a harder line against the peace talks than Somaliland’s government, according to local sources. Yusuf was charged with publishing false information and released on bail a week later. By October, a court had acquitted him of all charges, saying the prosecution failed to prove its case.