Somaliland government increases attacks on press

New York, July 22, 2009–The Committee to Protect Journalist condemns the government’s growing crackdown on the independent press in the northern breakaway republic of Somaliland as September presidential elections near. 

On July 13, Somaliland police arrested private Radio Horyaal Director Mohamed Osman and News Editor Ahmed Suleiman at the station, accusing them of inciting violence. The two were remanded in custody on Tuesday after a court hearing in the capital, Hargeisa, local journalists told CPJ. Osman and Suleiman are being held at the Criminal Investigation Department awaiting the next court hearing, Mustafe Abdi, president of the Somaliland Journalists Association said.

Police arrested the journalists after the station covered a July 9 meeting between Somaliland President Dahir Rayale Kahin and 25 elders over a land dispute between two clans, local journalists reported. Authorities claimed the broadcast sparked interclan violence the following day, the journalists’ association said.

On July 15, Judge Sheikh Hussein Warfa banned private radio and TV station HornCable, local journalists told CPJ. This decision reversed a previous verdict by the regional court that had rejected the attorney general’s petition to ban HornCable for “inciting violence” and “spreading false information,” said the station’s owner, Farhan Ali. The broadcaster has defied the ban and will appear in court on July 28, Ali added.

“As the September elections approach, it appears the Somaliland authorities are attempting to silence critical reporting,” said CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, Tom Rhodes. “The Radio Horyaal journalists should be freed immediately and the charges dropped, and the ban on HornCable lifted immediately.”

HornCable Program Manager Abdu Hakim said he believes the government is trying to suspend his station after it covered violence that erupted on July 10 between two clans in El-Bardaleh. The attorney general accused HornCable of inciting further violence by airing footage the following day, HornCable Chief Editor Mohamed Abdi Ilig said.

Six soldiers were reportedly detained for listening to Radio Horyaal last week, the online news site Somaliland Globe reported. The soldiers allegedly disobeyed an order from the Somaliland Military High Command calling for all members of the armed forces not to listen to Radio Horyaal.