The recent spate of arrests and increasing harassment of journalists and human rights defenders in Somaliland are worrying demonstrations of the Government’s clampdown on public debate and freedom of expression, said DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project) and Human Rights Centre-Somaliland in a statement today.
Between 25 and 26 May 2016, three journalists, Abdirahman Mohamed Egeh, Ahmed Saed Mohamed and Mubarig Osman Saed were arrested after publishing articles on an agreement the Government of Somaliland signed with United Arab Emirates company, DP World, to manage the development of Berbera Port. According to the agreement, signed in May 2016, DP World will develop the port, refurbishing existing structures and constructing new ones.
The Mayor of Berbera submitted to the police a list of journalists who had covered a meeting where a member of local government, Councilor Suleiman Ali Khayre, explained that as representative of the local government council, he would need to review the agreement to assess if it is in the interests of the district and the region. The mayor told the journalists not to report any of the remarks made by Councilor Suleiman Ali Khayre, and that those who ignored the warning would face arrest.
On 26 May, the Mayor of Berbera made a statement explaining that he had ordered the arrest of the three journalists. They were detained without charges for two days and then released.
On 29 May, Abdirashid Abdiwahaab Ibrahim, Chairman of the Independent Foore, was taken into custody at the Criminal Investigations Department in Hargeisa. He was detained for publishing an article alleging that the President of Somaliland maintains 15% shares in the new deal with DP World. He has not been formally charged and has been denied access to his family.
According to the Human Rights Centre, between 10 December 2015 and 1 April 2016, 11 journalists have been arrested in relation to their work.
“With presidential elections around the corner in Somaliland, now should be a time to encourage and promote freedom of expression and public debate on matters of public interest,” said DefendDefenders and the Human Rights Centre. “Journalists and human rights defenders play a vital role informing the public of developments at a government level, which ultimately strengthens, rather than weakens, democracies.”
In March 2016, two newspapers, Codka Shacabka and Xog Ogaal were suspended, and another, Hubsad, has been banned since 30 November 2015. Husbad’s Editor-in- Chief and Chairman are facing criminal charges for running an unlicensed newspaper. The newspapers were suspended on the grounds that they transferred ownership without the consent of the Office of the Attorney General. The Office of the Attorney General has no authority over the leadership of media houses and newspapers. Haatuf newspaper also remains closed since April 2014.
We call on the Somaliland government to immediately and unconditionally release the detained journalists, reopen the closed media houses and respect the right to freedom of opinion and expression as guaranteed in the Somaliland Constitution and regional and international human rights instruments.
For more information please contact:
Hassan Shire, Executive Director, DefendDefenders on: [email protected]
Guleid Ahmed Jama, Chairperson, Human Rights Centre, Hargesia Somaliland on: [email protected]