Journalism is not sedition, nor is it a politicized event. However, the past couple of weeks in Somaliland has shown that the detention of 15 journalists in Somaliland has been exacerbated. Although of the 15 journalists were released, three are still detained. Of those three journalists, one of them has a severe health complication.
On April 19th, HRC visited the Criminal Investigation Department to gain access to the journalists. We were informed by the head of the CID, Ahmed Ali Cige that we would need permission to visit the journalists from the police commissioner.
The head of CID informed us that we should follow the rules and seek permission from the police commissioner, however he was misinformed by what was written in the constitution and couldn’t visit the journalists because we were not his lawyers or his family. However, one can only assume he misinterpreted the article, as visitors can be anyone the alleged detainee requests. Article 27 subsection one clearly states that “Any person who is deprived of his liberty has a right to meet as soon as possible his legal representatives, relatives, or any other persons he asks for.”
Additionally, after paying a visit to the police commissioner, we were not allowed access to see him or anyone that can grant us permission to visit the journalists to see about their condition. It was only through a permission granted by the Hargeisa Regional Court the following day that we were allowed to visit the journalists. Our document was scrutinized, and it was after the police commissioner came to the CID and granted by permission from him that we were allowed visitation rights. During our visit at the CID, we were interrupted multiple times by the guards.
This interruption created a challenge for us, as the purpose was to make sure that we could and would not be able to interview the journalists. Although we appreciate the police commissioner’s efforts to allow us access to the journalists, it is imperative that his office and that of CID does not flex his muscles to anyone inquiring about the journalists for visitation rights, by creating obstacles where there does not need to be.
After the multiple interruptions, we surmised that we would not be able to continue our visit and we were told the journalists would be transferred to the scene of their alleged crimes, the Hargeisa Central Prison.
From the little time we spent with Mohammed Sheik Illig, Abdijabbar Mohammed Hussein, and Abdirahman Ali Khalif, we found that they are holding Mohammed Illig further to find more time to investigate and charge him with a harsher crime, thus the extra days in custody and charging Abdijabbar and Abdirahman as guilty by association. Our permission document showed that the journalists are charged with violating articles 215 and 328 of the constitution. Article 215 states “Subversive or Anti-National Propaganda” and article 328 “Publication or Circulation of False, Exaggerated, or Tendentious News Capable of Disturbing Public Order.”
While their crimes should be determined by the courts if they are guilty, one can be assured that is not the case here. Journalism in Somaliland, despite its challenges, has been attacked and abused by this administration. Some of the journalists have been beaten, isolated in areas far away from where they should be detained by the CID, some had shots fired at them and some were not even at the scene of the prison. This was an excuse for a brutal crackdown of journalists and free press in Somaliland.
Since visiting Mohammed Iliig, his detention is even in dire situation complicated by his health condition. Mohammed has previously had stomach procedure to address gastritis. During his first days at the CID, he was in solitary confinement. This led to further health complications due to his health condition.
While in solitary confinement, he was unable to breathe and became unconscious. This is also against the constitution, further ratified by international charters, against solitary confinement, and cruel and unusual punishment.
At HRC, we are imploring the police commissioner, head of the CID and Somaliland government to stop the harassment of journalists, the illegal procedures including the holding of individuals in places they should not be held at, and the complete disregard of the constitution of Somaliland.
These individuals are responsible for being the maintainers of the law and protectors of Somaliland, but that cannot work if they are misusing their office to demean citizens and abuse their office to the detriment of the public.
We are requesting that cases involving journalists to not be politicized, as journalists are the last line of defense for the public to be informed, and their immediate release especially if Abdirahman and Abdijabbar are being used as a front to convict Mohammed Illig for nonexistent crimes. This is against the constitution and against the shariah.
Yasmin Omar Haji Mohamoud
The Chairperson of Human Rights Centre