Police raid and shut down paper in Somaliland

Nairobi, December 16, 2013Police in the semi-autonomous republic of Somaliland on December 13 raided the Hargeisa offices of the critical independent daily Hubaal, arrested two staff members, and ordered the publication to be shut down, according to news reports. This is the third time the paper has been targeted this year.

Police told Hubaal staff to turn off their cellphones, and ordered them to leave the offices, according to news reports. Mustafa Mohamed, a reporter, and Osman Ahmed, an IT specialist, were arrested, but were released today with no explanation.

Mohamed Ahmed Jama, managing director of the paper and the owner of Hubaal Media Network, which publishes the paper, has gone into hiding, a representative of the Somaliland Journalists Association told CPJ. The offices were closed today. It is unclear if the paper will resume publishing.

Somaliland Police Commissioner Gen. Abdullahi Fadal told local journalists that police had a court warrant allowing them to close the offices because Hubaal had recently published stories that were dangerous to the country’s internal security.

Hubaal had published a story that claimed the police were divided into two rival groups. The police commissioner denied the allegations on public television the day before the raid, local journalists said.

“Authorities must put an end to this repeated harassment of journalists at Hubaal,” said CPJ East Africa Representative Tom Rhodes. “Somaliland will never achieve its democratic aspirations if the press does not feel empowered to report critically on the government.”

In June, the Attorney General filed criminal charges against Mohamed and Hassan Hussein, editor of Hubaal, and suspended the newspaper for more than a month on defamation charges. Police detained Mohamed and Hassan for one day a week later, local journalists said. In August, President Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud issued a presidential pardon, dropping all charges against Mohamed and Hassan.

Two masked gunmen raided the Hubaal offices on April 24 and fired at Mohamed, whose arm and finger were broken in the attack, according to news reports. The gunmen were later identified as police officers. The attack followed a series of critical articles published in Hubaal that accused the government of nepotism and misuse of office.

Authorities arrested one of the gunmen implicated in the April raid on Hubaal, but he was released without being charged and without a court hearing, local journalists said. The Military Court Chairman Brigadier-General Yusuf Farah claimed the gunman, Ahmed Hassan, could not be held for more than 180 days since the complainants had not followed up with the case, according to news reports.

Journalists staged a protest over Ahmed Hassan’s release on December 3, according to news reports. But police detained four journalists for six days on charges of holding an illegal protest, local journalists told CPJ.