Somaliland cracks down on independent media

New York, August 24, 2009–The Committee to Protect Journalists called today for an end to an ongoing government crackdown on independent journalists in Somaliland.

On Sunday, the Sahil regional court in the costal city of Berbera sentenced the editor-in-chief of the online publication Berberanews, Mohamed Said, in absentia to three years in jail on defamation charges, according to local journalists. Said has been in hiding since mid-August. Judge Osman Ibrahim read a letter that claimed Berberanews published articles that “spread scandals” against local officials, the National Union of Somali Journalists reported. The verdict banned the Web site from operating in Somaliland for an indefinite period. Local journalists told CPJ that Said plans to appeal the verdict.

The regional court ruling also banned Yasin Jama, a contributor to Berberanews, from practicing journalism until further notice from the court. Local police arrested Jama and detained him for 10 days with no official charges, local journalists told CPJ. Police accused Jama of defamation after he posted two opinion pieces, not written by him, that accused local officials of misusing public funds to support a local political party. 

“Somaliland authorities must end this crackdown on independent reporting,” said CPJ’s Africa Program Coordinator Tom Rhodes. “We call on the authorities to drop the charges against Yasin Jama immediately and on the court of appeals to overturn the verdict against Mohamed Said.”

Police in the northwestern town of Burao have been holding private Radio Horyaal journalist Fowsi Suleiman since August 3 for a story that accused local Governor Jama Abdillahi of embezzlement, local journalists told CPJ. Fowsi has been detained without charge or brought to court for 21 days despite the 48-hour limit for detentions without charge permitted under Somaliland law. Repeated calls to Abdillahi went unanswered.

On August 17, four relatives of the chairman of the ruling party beat Ali Adan, a reporter for Horn Cable TV and Radio Horyaal, with sticks in Erigabo, a city in northeastern Somalia. According to Horn Cable TV Director Abdu Hakim, the chairman of the ruling party in Erigayo had threatened him three days earlier for covering recent political rallies. Adan told CPJ he has been released from the hospital but was still recovering from injuries. Police reportedly arrested the four relatives but the governor released them the next day.

The semi-autonomous republic is preparing for presidential elections on September 27.