The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned about attacks on press freedom in the autonomous Puntland region of northeast Somalia, of which you were elected president by the region’s parliament in January. They include the arrests of two journalists from the weekly newspaper Shacab (Voice of the People) in the town of Garowe; threats to close that newspaper; plans to introduce identity cards for all journalists; and attempts to censor radio coverage of sensitive political issues.
On April 20, security forces attacked the premises of Shacab, breaking the front gate and damaging the editor’s car and other property, according to the newspaper’s editor and local press freedom groups. The same day, security forces arrested Shacab reporter Abdirashid Qoransey in connection with articles criticizing the Puntland authorities. Qoransey was held at a police station for about four hours, but was released after his editor, Abdi Farah Nur, negotiated on his behalf.
The following day, police came looking for Farah, who was not at Shacab‘s office at the time. Farah told CPJ that he went later that day to the police station, where he was arrested and detained for three days. He said police told him that his arrest was in connection with two items published in Shacab: an article suggesting that citizens with complaints about the Puntland government contact their representatives in parliament; and a reader’s letter criticizing the authorities, including Your Excellency.
On the night of April 23, police returned to Shacab offices and rearrested Qoransey, according to Farah. The following day both men were brought to court in Garowe and charged with inciting the public and insulting Your Excellency. The charges were dismissed and they were released the same day. However, local journalists and press freedom organizations say official harassment of Shacab has continued.
Farah said Information Ministry officials visited the newspaper on April 28 and questioned staff about the newspaper’s license. He said he received a letter from the Information Ministry, dated that day, that warned him against publishing the newspaper without permission and without paying certain taxes. Shacab managers say the newspaper is licensed and that they will pay legally required taxes.
Local journalists are also worried by government plans to introduce identity cards for all journalists, according to the Somali Journalists Network (SOJON). Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Abdi Weli confirmed to CPJ by phone that the Information Ministry had proposed the ID cards, but he said that they would not restrict press freedom. Another cabinet member, Sports Minister Said Korshel, told CPJ that the cards would be issued by the Puntland Media Association Network (PUMANET). Independent Somali journalists and press freedom activists point out that PUMANET, a nominally independent journalists organization, is close to the government nonetheless. SOJON and others say that ID cards could be used to control who works as a journalist in Puntland.
Puntland officials have also exerted pressure on radio stations in the region to avoid coverage of controversial political issues such as whether neighboring states should be allowed to send peacekeeping troops to Somalia, according to SOJON and other local sources. They said members of the public had criticized your government’s stance on such issues during radio talk shows. At a press conference in Bosasso last month, Deputy Information Minister Ibrahim Artan Ismail threatened to ban call-in talk shows, according to CPJ sources. Minister of International Cooperation Abdi Weli denied any ban is in effect, and said that radio talk shows were continuing. CPJ sources said that talk shows were indeed continuing, but they now focus on social rather than political issues.
CPJ calls on Your Excellency to ensure that harassment of Shacab newsapaper ceases immediately, and that journalists can work in Puntland without fear of reprisal. We urge your government to abandon plans for journalist ID cards and refrain from any threats to censor the media. We remind you that censorship of the news is anathema to democracy, and that Somalia’s transitional federal constitution, to which Puntland has subscribed, contains a guarantee of press freedom.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter.