Somaliland expels 24 journalists

New York, December 5, 2007–CPJ condemns the Somaliland authorities’ decision to expel 24 Somali journalists from Hargeisa, the capital of the northern breakaway republic. The group had recently fled there to escape ongoing persecution in Mogadishu, Somalia.

Yesterday, Somaliland Police Chief General Mohammed Saqadhi Dubad and the head of the Criminal Investigations Department, General Ahmed Ali Shabel, ordered the 24 exiled journalists to leave Somaliland within 24 hours. Negotiations with Somaliland’s foreign minister and human rights organizations today have allowed the journalists to stay in Hargeisa until Sunday.

“We condemn the decision of the Somaliland authorities to evict these journalists from Hargeisa,” said Executive Director Joel Simon. “If Somaliland wants to be recognized as an autonomous nation by the international community, it needs to adhere to international human rights principles and ensure the safety and protection of these journalists.” Somaliland declared its independence from Somalia in 1991.

Over the past three weeks, a steady flow of journalists fled Mogadishu to Hargeisa, where they stayed together in a safe house set up and supported by local and international media groups, local journalists reported. All of the journalists were forced to flee Mogadishu due to ongoing threats to their lives. Many came to Hargeisa penniless and hungry, said the chairman of the Somaliland Journalists Association, Mustapha Abdi Isse.

According to Somaliland’s presidential spokesman, Si’id Adani Moge, the minister of the interior made the eviction decision, claiming the journalists’ reporting would jeopardize Somaliland’s relationship with Ethiopia. “We are still helping thousands of refugees [from Mogadishu] but we accepted these journalists into our country as refugees, not as practicing journalists,” Adani told CPJ.

Adani claimed the journalists were, during their stay, writing critical reports regarding the Ethiopian forces in Mogadishu that negatively affected Somaliland’s “vital relationship” with Ethiopia. “We don’t want any journalists, including local ones [in Somaliland], to offend the Ethiopian government.” The Transitional Federal Government took control of Mogadishu with military support from neighboring Ethiopia.

Meanwhile, the mayor of Mogadishu, Mohamed “Dheere” Omar Habeeb, reopened three private radio stations in Mogadishu yesterday. The three stations, Radio Banadir, Radio Shabelle, and Radio Simba were forced to halt operations in mid-November by the mayor’s orders for allegedly inciting violence in Mogadishu. Omar also dropped earlier restrictions imposed on journalists in Mogadishu that had banned reporting on “military operations” but urged the stations to produce balanced coverage and rely on accurate sources for their information.