Over the past three months the authorities in Somaliland appear to have stepped up their attack on dissenting voices by shutting down media houses, arbitrarily arresting and prosecuting individuals perceived as critical of government policies and officials, Amnesty International said today.
Between 17 April and 9 May, four individuals were arrested: a journalist, an opposition youth leader and a civil servant were detained after publishing critical Facebook posts, and a Member of Parliament was detained after he publicly questioned the significance of celebrating 18 May as a national day. One of them told us he sustained injuries during the arrest.
On 18 June, the authorities also arbitrarily suspended two privately-owned television stations – Horyaal 24 and Eryal TV – for allegedly “airing information that is threat to national security” without specific details. The ban on the two stations was lifted on 30 June after a “mutual understanding” was reached between the Ministry of Information and the TV owners. Many have interpreted this as arm-twisting the two media houses to censor their content.
“The increase in harassment and intimidation of government critics we are witnessing underscores the intolerance that the current government displays towards diverse opinions, and their lack of regard for human rights protections,” said Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty International’s Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
“These arrests and suspensions make a total mockery of the Somaliland constitution which explicitly guarantees the right to freedom of expression.”
Amnesty International interviewed some of the victims, their family members and lawyers during a fact-finding mission to Hargeisa between 15-24 June 2019 and attended one of the court hearings for the journalist. The organization found that all four men were targeted for expressing critical views.
On 17 April, freelance journalist, Abdimalik Muse Oldon, was arrested outside his home in Burao for criticizing President Muse Bihi Abdi on Facebook. He was charged on 6 June with “spreading anti-national propaganda” and “disseminating false news”.
On 24 April, Jamal Abdi Muhumed, an employee of the Ministry of Interior, was arrested at his office in Hargeisa over Facebook posts criticizing the effectiveness of police services. On 19 June, he was charged with “insulting the police” and “insulting a public officer”. On 2 July, he was found guilty and sentenced to six months in prison. He was released on 3 July after paying a fine.
On 1 May, Mohamed Sidiiq Dhame, leader of the opposition Waddani party’s youth wing, was arrested at his home in Hargeisa for a Facebook post criticizing the state of emergency imposed on three districts of Sanaag region. He was charged on 8 June for “offending the honour and prestige of the president” and “incitement to violence”. On 27 June, he was found guilty on the first charge and sentenced to six months in prison.
On 9 May, Mohamed Ahmed Dhakool, a Member of Parliament from Sool region, was arrested for “opposing” commemorating 18 May as a national day; (Somaliland declared its breakaway status from Somalia on 18 May 1991). The police claimed he made “anti-national statements” and “opposed the existence of Somaliland”, but the courts refused to entertain the case because of his parliamentary immunity. After 39 days in detention, he was released on 17 June.
Abdimalik and Mohamed are currently held at Hargeisa Central Prison as their cases are heard and determined.
“The authorities are using the vaguely worded, outdated criminal offences in the penal code of 1962 to crackdown on freedom of expression. The problematic provisions in the penal code must be repealed and aligned with the constitution so that the authorities fully respect, protect, promote and fulfil the freedom of expression in Somaliland,” said Joan Nyanyuki.
“The Somaliland authorities must immediately and unconditionally release these men who are detained solely for exercising their freedom of expression and desist from this wanton harassment of government critics.”
Amnesty International spoke to the Attorney-General of Maroodi Jeex region, where Hargeisa is located, Moulid Abdi Muse, who justified the government actions saying they were protecting national security.
“The Somaliland constitution protects the right to freedom of expression but also limits this right. We are therefore obliged to make sure individuals are not abusing this right especially when it comes to issues threatening the stability of the country and transgressing on the rights of others,” Moulid Abdi Muse said.