Nairobi, July 1, 2020 — Authorities in Somaliland should immediately withdraw security personnel from the studios of the privately owned Universal TV and Star TV stations, and allow the stations to reopen and the journalists return to work without interference, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On June 25, police officers ordered journalists to leave the Star TV offices in the Somaliland capital, Hargeisa, according to a post on Twitter by the station. They were still occupying the premises this afternoon local time, the station’s owner, Mohamed Hassan, told CPJ via messaging app. The officers did not provide a warrant to the journalists, according to Mohamed and as well as two separate statements posted on Facebook by local rights organizations, the Human Rights Centre Somaliland and the Somaliland Journalists Association.
In a statement provided to CPJ on July 1, the Somaliland Ministry of Information said that Star TV is under investigation, and the ministry will provide further details once the investigation is complete. The statement was sent to CPJ via messaging app by Suad Dahir, an advisor at the Ministry of Information, on behalf of the minister, Suelyman Yusuf Ali, also known as Koore.
In a separate case, the Universal TV studio in Hargeisa has also been closed since June 27, when police officers raided it and ordered journalists to leave, claiming to be implementing orders from the Ministry of Information, according to Ahmed Abubakar, Universal TV’s chief executive who spoke to CPJ via messaging app from the United Kingdom.
The ministry’s July 1 statement to CPJ said that Universal TV was suspended for its “unwillingness to cooperate” with the government’s request for coverage on Somaliland’s Independence Day, which is June 26. It said the station had violated Somaliland’s constitution and independence, echoing Suleyman’s June 27 interview with BBC Somali.
“The arbitrary nature of these closures, without even the pretense of following due process, is an unfortunate symptom of how hostile Somaliland is becoming for the media,” said CPJ sub-Saharan Africa representative Muthoki Mumo. “We call on authorities to respect the press freedoms enshrined in Somaliland’s constitution by allowing journalists from Star TV and Universal TV to continue their work without interference.”
Ahmed told CPJ that he had received a call on June 26 from someone who identified himself as Mohamed Ali Bile, director general of Somaliland’s Office of the President, asking Universal TV to cover Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi’s speech later that day on the commemoration of Somaliland’s 1960 independence from the British. Universal TV alternated coverage between the Somaliland president and another speech by the president of Somalia, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed Faarmajo, commemorating the same event, according to Ahmed. Somaliland broke away from Somalia in 1991, has not yet gained international recognition, and has a tense relationship with the government in Mogadishu, according to reports.
In a phone call with CPJ on June 30, Mohamed, the director general of Somaliland’s Office of the President, said Universal TV had deliberately reneged on a commercial agreement to air Muse’s speech and claimed that the station’s programming displayed an agenda against Somaliland sovereignty. Ahmed denied that there had been any agreement between Universal TV and the government to air Muse’s speech live.
Universal TV and Star TV continued to broadcast from other studios, including in Mogadishu and in London, according to Ahmed and Mohamed. However, in a letter dated June 29 that was shared by the state-owned Somaliland News Agency, Suleyman said that the licenses of the two stations had been revoked. He ordered local cable companies not to carry Universal TV or Star TV and directed businesses to pull their advertising from the two stations, according to the letter. It was not immediately clear to CPJ if these orders had been implemented.
On June 29 the Somaliland Journalists Association wrote a complaint to the Hargeisa regional court, raising concerns about the lack of explanation given for the shutdown of the two stations and saying that the closure of the stations contravened Somaliland’s constitution, according to a copy of the letter that was seen by CPJ.
CPJ has documented the use of media shutdowns, studio raids, the blocking of news sites, as well as arrests, to crack down on independent media in Somaliland.