Amid protests that turned deadly, persistent drought and election controversies, Somaliland’s media are coming under attack.
Arbitrary arrests, threats, beatings. Somaliland’s journalists are bearing the brunt of a spike in attacks, media associations say.
In a recent incident, police in Hargeisa, the capital of the breakaway region, detained two Horyaal 24 TV journalists — Abdinasir Abdi Haji Nur and Ahmed-Zaki Ibrahim Mohamud — on August 11, as they reported on violent protests over claims that elections could be delayed.
According to journalists in Hargeisa who spoke with VOA over the phone, police initially held the pair at the criminal investigation department before transferring them to the Mandera prison on August 15. The pair, who were accused of taking part in the unrest, were finally freed on Wednesday.
The Somali Journalists Syndicate, which tracks violations, says members of the police and national intelligence often perpetrate hostilities against the media, and that in many cases, no one is held accountable for attacks.
Abdalle Ahmed Mumin, secretary-general for the Somali Journalists Syndicate, believes the media are attacked to silence reporting on issues of national interest.
Media outlets and journalists who cover corruption, human rights abuses and other violations are continuously targeted, he said, impeding their work.
“The attacks against the journalists and the detention and raid on media houses have also increased,” he said. “This is because Somaliland is facing various crises. Number one, the humanitarian crisis in Somaliland because of the drought, has forced the government to become unable to respond to this crisis. Secondly, the election dispute and the latest deadline is expiring on November. That’s why the authorities have now resorted to attacking journalists to stop [these] critical voices.”
The federal police did not respond to VOA’s request for comment. But in July, a police spokesperson announced that an officer had been arrested over allegations that he had assaulted a journalist in Mogadishu.
Muthoki Mumo, the Sub-Saharan Africa representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists or CPJ, says journalists have a duty to cover issues of public interest such as protests, and that their work should never be equated with criminal activity.
The CPJ is concerned by recent actions against the press, including a ban on the BBC, that point to an increasingly hostile environment, she said.
“The impact of these violations is to send a message of fear to the broader media community,” she said. “These violations create an environment where journalists might choose to self-censor rather than risk their livelihoods or liberty in telling the truth. In such an environment, it is the public that ultimately suffers for lack of access to diverse and critical sources of information.”
Part of the problem, says veteran human rights defender Ahmed Yusuf Hussein, is that a press law protecting journalists has yet to be enacted.
“The press law, which was of special importance to the media and journalists, has not been given its importance and it has not been forwarded to the legislatures to pass it into the law,” he said.
Journalists also face danger in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, where a video journalist for media house M24 needed emergency surgery on Sunday after being hit by a bullet that witnesses say was fired by police.
Ahmed Omar Nur was shot while covering an attack on the Hayat hotel in Mogadishu. Colleagues who witnessed the incident say the shot was fired from the direction of a group of elite police officers.
Nur is recovering. But others have not been so lucky.
Somalia is one of the deadliest countries for journalists in the world, with more than 50 killed since 2010, according to Reporters Without Borders. The media watchdog describes Somalia as “the most dangerous country for journalists in Africa.”