Women walk in front of a Somaliland sign in the city of Hargeisa. Police arrested three journalists in the breakaway territory's Sool region on December 26 and December 30, 2021. (Photo by EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP)

Somaliland authorities arrest three journalists for critical reporting

Nairobi, December 31, 2021—The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on authorities in the breakaway region of Somaliland to unconditionally release three journalists detained for reporting critically on the administration of the Sool region, and to guarantee that the media can cover politics without retaliation.

On December 26, police in Las Anod, the capital of the Sool region, arrested Abdifatah Mohamed Abdi, a reporter with the Facebook and YouTube-based outlet Holhol Media, according to a Facebook post by Holhol Media as well as Sakaria Ahmed Muhumed, chairperson of the Somaliland Journalists Association (SOLJA), a local press rights group. On December 30, police in Las Anod arrested two other journalists—Hamse Abdi Ahmed, a freelancer, and Abdikhadar Farah Abshir, a reporter with the privately owned Universal TV, according to Sakaria, and a Las Anod-based journalist, who requested anonymity for safety concerns. Both spoke to CPJ via messaging app.

Sakaria told CPJ that the three journalists were detained in connection with interviews of members of the public about the track record of Sool governor Abdikarin Adan Haji Diriye. On December 26, Abdifatah, Khadar, and Hamse posted three similar reports to their Facebook accounts, where they each have at least 4,000 friends or followers. CPJ reviewed the version of the report published by Abdifatah on his page, in which he interviewed people who expressed critical views about the governor, some of whom called for his replacement.

“The media have a duty to give voice to members of the public who wish to express dissenting or controversial views. This is journalism, and not a crime,” said CPJ sub-Saharan African representative, Muthoki Mumo. Authorities in Somaliland should unconditionally release Abdifatah Mohamed Abdi, Abdikhadar Farah Abshir, and Hamse Abdi Ahmed, and ensure that the press can cover politics without fear of retaliation.”

In the days after Abdifatah was arrested, Hamse and Abdikhadar continued to publish posts that were critical of the Sool administration, according to CPJ’s review of their Facebook pages. Sakaria told CPJ that as of December 31, the three journalists were held at the Central Police Station in Las Anod and had yet to be produced in court.

Yasmin Omar Haji Mohamoud, the chairperson of the local NGO Human Rights Centre Somaliland, told CPJ via messaging app that three of the members of the public interviewed in Abdifatah’s report had also been arrested and remained in custody as of December 31.

Sool authorities have detained Abdifatah before for his political reporting. On October 24, he was arrested by police in Las Anod and released in early November, according to a statement issued by the Human Rights Centre, and a Facebook post by Abdifatah at the time. 

Governor Abdikarin disconnected a phone call on December 30, shortly after being asked about Abdifatah’s detention. He did not answer subsequent messages from CPJ requesting comment on the detention of the three journalists.

CPJ’s emails to the office of the Somaliland president, the ministry of justice, the ministry of interior, the ministry of foreign affairs, and the ministry of information either were not immediately answered or returned error messages. CPJ’s phone calls to these ministries did not connect, and messages sent via Facebook and Twitter did not receive immediate responses.

Somaliland attorney general Hasan Aden’s phone was switched off when CPJ called today and a message delivered to his WhatsApp account is yet to be answered.