Puntland editor jailed after resuming publication

New York, June 20, 2005—Authorities in the autonomous Puntland region of northeast Somalia arrested Abdi Farah Nur, editor of the weekly Shacab (Voice of the People), after the newspaper resumed publication yesterday in defiance of an indefinite government suspension. Farah was being held without charge in a Garowe jail today, Shacab General Manager Abdirahman Abdulle told CPJ.

Security agents in two armored vehicles and led by the local police chief arrested Farah at the newspaper’s offices last night, a CPJ source said. Abdulle said the newspaper’s management had decided to resume publication after failing to persuade authorities to lift the suspension, now in its seventh week. Copies of the paper were printed and distributed despite the arrest.

On May 5, the Puntland government ordered Shacab “temporarily suspended” for an undetermined period for publishing unspecified articles that it claimed could lead to unrest. A presidential decree issued after a cabinet meeting cited the government’s constitutional responsibility to uphold the unity of Puntland. Fearing arrest at the time, management decided to suspend publication while seeking to contest the ban via legal representation and negotiation, according to Abdulle. But, he said, authorities showed no sign that they would lift the suspension any time soon.

In April, Shacab editor Farah and reporter Abdirashid Qoransey were detained, tried, and acquitted on charges of incitement and insulting the president. Those charges were based on a mid-April article suggesting that citizens with complaints about the Puntland government contact their representatives in Parliament; and a reader’s letter criticizing authorities, according to Farah.

“Puntland authorities are acting in an arbitrary and autocratic way toward this independent newspaper and its journalists,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “We call on Puntland’s president, Adde Muse Hirsi, and the transitional federal president, Abdullahi Yusuf, to ensure that Farah is released immediately and unconditionally, and that journalists can work freely in Puntland without fear of reprisal.”

Puntland is a self-declared autonomous region in Somalia, which has had no functioning central government since the collapse of the Siad Barre regime in 1991. The Puntland authorities are signatory to a peace agreement signed last year in Kenya, aimed at restoring Somalia to peace and democracy.