Nairobi, April 15, 2022 – Authorities in the breakaway region of Somaliland should unconditionally release without charge 13 journalists detained since April 13 and should not pursue any charges against two others who were detained and later released, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.
On the afternoon of Wednesday, April 13, security personnel — including police and intelligence officers — arrested a group of at least nine journalists, working for seven local private media outlets and two international outlets, who were covering a fight between inmates and guards at a prison in the region’s capital, Hargeisa, according to multiple media reports and statements by press rights groups. Two of the detained journalists were released after a few hours in custody, according to the press rights groups and a statement by the Human Rights Center, an advocacy group.
Later that day, security personnel raided the Horn Cable TV offices, which was one of the stations that aired breaking news dispatches from the scene of the prison fight, and arrested another six journalists, according to statements made at a news conference by Sakaria Muhumed Ahmed, the chairperson of the Somaliland Journalists Association, a local media industry body; a joint statement by the Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS) and the Somali Media Association, Mogadishu-based press rights organizations; and Abdikarim Saed Salah, a Horn Cable TV journalist who spoke to CPJ via messaging app. Abdikarim said that the men who raided the station were police officers.
The detained journalists’ colleagues said that none of them had been produced in court. CPJ was unable to independently verify the whereabouts of the 13 journalists who remain behind bars or what allegations police have leveled against them.
“These sweeping arrests expose the intolerance for independent reporting that has made Somaliland a hostile environment for members of the press,” said CPJ’s sub-Saharan African representative Muthoki Mumo. “Authorities must release all journalists detained for their work, allow them to go back to their jobs without interference, and ensure that security personnel no longer harass or detain journalists for doing their jobs.”
At a news conference, shared online by state media, Justice Minister Saleban Warsame Guled accused journalists of rushing to the scene to “report unconfirmed news.” At that same press conference, Ahmed Awale Yusuf, the head of Somaliland’s Custodial Corps, which is in charge of guarding the prison, vowed to file a case against “those who exaggerated the incident” for “damaging the moral of the soldiers and lying.”
According to media reports, including by some the journalists’ employers; the statements; and the colleagues who spoke to CPJ, the nine journalists detained near the prison were:
- Naima Abdi Ahmed, founder of Carro Edeg Media
- Hassan Galaydh, a BBC correspondent
- Sagal Mustafe Hassan, a stringer for U.S. Congress-funded Voice of America (VOA)
- Mohamed Abdi Ilig, a reporter and chairperson of MM Somali TV
- Mohamed Jamal Jirde, a cameraperson with MM Somali TV
- Aidarus Mohamed, a reporter and regional bureau chief with the Mogadishu-headquartered Goobjoog Media Group
- Ahmed Nur Samrawi, a Bulsho TV reporter
- Ahmed Said Hassan Shimali, a Horn Cable TV reporter
- Ahmed Mohamud Yusuf, a Saab TV camera operator
Police and intelligence officers at the scene also tried to arrest another journalist, CBA TV reporter and manager Hamza Hirsi Hayd, but he was allowed to go free after the officers argued and failed to agree about whether he should be taken into custody, according to the journalist, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app, and another person familiar with his case who requested anonymity for safety concerns.
Sagal and Naima were released after about three to four hours in custody, according to the same sources, a VOA statement shared with CPJ via email, and Naima, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app. VOA said that authorities did not provide a reason for Sagal’s arrest.
Naima told CPJ she was held at the intelligence headquarters, where officers searched her phone and accused her of undermining national security and recording “sensitive matters.” She said that the officers beat and kicked her, including hitting her in the face. She said she suffered aches all over her body and on one of her hands, that eight of her teeth in “fragile condition,” and that she visited a local dentist who gave her painkillers.
After raiding the Horn Cable TV offices, security personnel arrested reporters Abdijabar Mohamed Hussein, Mohamed Suldan Ahmed, and Khalid Mohamed Aleeli, as well as camera operators Ayanle Abdi Buni, Mustafa Muhumed Abdi, and Abdifatah Mohamud Ismail, according to Abdikarim. Sakaria, at the April 13 press conference, said that security personnel also confiscated two cameras.
During the April 13 press conference, Sakaria said five journalists were held at the Hargeisa Central Police station while the whereabouts of the rest were unclear. The SJS reported that seven of the journalists were held at the intelligence headquarters while the rest were held at the central police station in Hargeisa, a report corroborated by Abdikarim and Abdishakur Dayib Mohamed, director of MM Somali TV, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
Bulsho TV director Ali Farah Hardi and Goobjoog Media’s deputy director Abdiaziz Ahmed Gurbiye told CPJ via messaging app that they were unsure where the journalists from their stations are detained.
CPJ’s calls and messages to Somaliland Police Commissioner General Mohamed Adan Saqadhi, Intelligence Chief Mohamed Salebaan Hasan, and Justice Minister Salebaan Warsame Guleed were not answered. CPJ could not immediately find contact information for the prison security head Ahmed Awale Yusuf. CPJ sent queries for comment via Facebook and Twitter to Somaliland’s ministries of justice, information, and foreign affairs but did not receive a response. A query sent via Twitter to the office of the Somaliland president was also unanswered.