Somaliland escalates crackdown on press freedom
MOGADISHU, Somalia - At least 16 journalists were on Wednesday, April 13 roughed up by police in Hargeisa, the regional administrative capital of Somaliland, in what could trigger further calls from international stakeholders for respect for media freedoms and human rights on.
Reports from Hargeisa indicate the unprecedented crackdown was engineered by a prison break, which led to the activation of reporters to arrive at the scene. Prison warders and Hargeisa Central prison engaged in a fight with inmates who were running away.
Somaliland Journalists Association, the official lobby group for journalists in the breakaway region, said it was concerned with the incident, adding that it was a "continuation" of the violation of rights and privileges accorded to reporters in the region.
"SOLJA is very concerned with Journalist’s recurrent arrests and requests their immediate release," read the statement, even though there was no immediate response from authorities in the region.
Among those arrested include Mohamed Abdi Ilig, Hassan Galaydh, Sagal Mustafe, Naima Abdi, and Ahmed Mohamud Yusuf. They were all arrested outside the Central prison where they had been dispatched by their organizations to make follow up on incidents that were taking place.
Further, among the men who were arrested were two female journalists who were among the crew covering a gunfight between inmates and guards at Hargeisa central jail on Wednesday. Cases of arbitrary arrests targeting reporters are not new in Somalia as a whole.
According to Mogadishu-based Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS), Somaliland Police on the same day officers accompanied by intelligence unit officers later raided Horn Cable TV studio in the city center of Hargeisa and detained six more journalists who were reporting about the prison gunfire: Abdijabar Mohamed Hussein (Horn Cable TV reporter); Mohamed Suldan Ahmed (Horn Cable TV reporter); Khalid Mohamed Aleeli (Horn Cable TV reporter); Ayanle Abdi Buni (Horn Cable TV reporter); Mustafa Muhumed Abdi (Horn Cable TV cameraman) and Abdifatah Mohamud Ismail (Horn Cable TV cameraman).
Late on Wednesday night police released Voice of America’s Sagal Mustafe Hassan and Naima Abdi Ahmed of Caro Edeg Media, according to colleagues and family members who spoke to SJS and SOMA. The reason for their release is not yet clear.
According to sources privy to the development, the shooting is said to have started in the prison’s block A section, which holds people who have been convicted of terror-related charges. Preliminary reports intimated that a number of police officers were injured in the fracas after several inmates were said to have attacked and disarmed prison guards.
So far, no comments have been made available by the time of going to the press. Somaliland has been on the radar of regions in Somalia where journalists face threats and arrests by the government for critical reporting.
Somaliland leads the list of the worst journalists’ jailers among all other regional states in Somalia. This spike in arrests of journalists in Somaliland shows an escalating crackdown on media freedom in that region,” Abdalla Ahmed Mumin, the Secretary-General of Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS) said.
The breakaway region has in the past five years clamped down on any persons, including journalists and poets it sees campaigning against what it terms “Somaliland sovereignty”, and some arrested for travelling to Mogadishu and meeting with government leaders.
The United Nations has often questioned the treatment accorded to journalists in Somalia, who are often targeted by Al-Shabaab and government authorities for critical reporting. In 2020, Amnesty International complained that dozens of journalists had been either arrested or injured in such scuffles.
Prison breaks in Somalia are also synonymous with Somalia given that last year, a similar scuffle ensued in Bosaso, the commercial capital of Puntland state. In most cases, hardcore criminals try to make their way out of prison with help of their networks within and outside the premises.