Journalists arrested after covering protest in Somaliland

Nairobi, November 3, 2014–Authorities in the semi-autonomous republic of Somaliland arrested two journalists from privately owned television stations last week after they each aired coverage of a protest in the northwest town of Gabiley, local journalists told CPJ. Authorities arrested Horn Cable TV reporter Mukhtar Nouh Ibrahim on October 30 and SomSat TV reporter Mohamed Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud the following day, news reports said.

Police arrested Mukhtar and Mohamed for covering a protest on October 30 where locals burnt the flag of the ruling Somaliland party Kulmiye, according to local journalists, including colleagues of Mukhtar. Residents had organized a small rally against what they say is a lack of services and unfilled campaign promises, which took place during a Kulmiye party conference, according to news reports.

Regional Governor Mustafa Abdi Issa said authorities detained the journalists for their own protection following threats from Kulmiye officials after the journalists filed “libelous reports,” according to news reports. He denied in a statement that any protest had taken place.

In court on November 2 Gabiley Regional Prosecutor Yusuf Bihi charged the two journalists with defamation, false accusation, and defacing a flag, according to local journalists and Guleid Ahmed Jama, defense lawyer and chairman of the Hargeisa-based Somaliland Human Right Center. The court case was adjourned until November 9, Guleid told CPJ. The journalists, who were originally held at Gabiley Police Station, were transferred to Gabiley Prison where they will remain until the hearing, local journalists said.

“The Somaliland government evidently thinks that locking away journalists who report on a public protest will make that protest disappear from history,” said CPJ East Africa Representative Tom Rhodes. “We urge authorities to drop all charges against Mukhtar Nouh Ibrahim and Mohamed Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud and stop trying to intimidate independent journalists into silence.”

Local journalists told CPJ the press has come under pressure from authorities in the lead up to elections in Somaliland scheduled for June 2015 Police in Berbera today detained a reporter with the privately owned Somali Channel TV who was covering a dispute between two livestock dealers, local journalists told CPJ. Authorities claimed his report could incur public incitement. Mohamed Abdillahi, who also owns the news website Berbera Today, was held at Berbera Police Station for approximately three hours before being released without charge, the same sources said.

Since December 2013, Somaliland authorities have shuttered four independent newspapers and banned one privately owned television station, according to CPJ research. On December 13, police raided and closed indefinitely the daily Hubaal and its sister English-language publication, The Independent, citing a court order that claimed the publication promoted insecurity in the nation. The court did not allow for an appeal process, according to local journalists. In February, authorities banned indefinitely the privately owned U.K.-based broadcaster Universal TV from airing in Somaliland after it broadcast a comedy program that ridiculed President Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo, according to local journalists and reports. In April, police raided the offices of the Haatuf Media Network and indefinitely suspended Haatuf and the Somaliland Times, according to news reports and local journalists. Court authorities did not give the outlets a way to appeal the suspensions, the same sources said. All four newspapers remain out of print, although their websites are still active.