Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and its local partner, the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), condemn the continuing detention of 14 journalists, who were arrested yesterday in connection with their coverage of a prison riot in Somaliland, in northwestern Somalia, and call for their unconditional release.
The arrests, which are without precedent in recent years, began when reporters went to cover a riot in the main prison in Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland, a self-proclaimed independent republic that is not recognised by the international community.
Ten journalists were initially arrested outside the prison in the afternoon. They included two women who were later released. The police arrested another seven journalists and seized several cameras when they went to the headquarters of Horn Cable TV in the evening to prevent any coverage of the riot by this independent broadcaster.
In the end, a total of 14 journalists spent the night in the detention centre controlled by the Hargeisa central police intelligence department, and they were still being held when this press release was written.
According to the information obtained by NUSOJ, the detained journalists work for MMTV, BBC, SAAB TV, CBA TV, Goodjoog TV and Bulsho TV, as well as HornCable TV.
“These journalists committed no crime and were just doing their job,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “They have absolutely no place being in prison and must be released unconditionally. By hounding journalists and media outlets in recent years, Somaliland – which is seeking recognition – has distinguished itself from the other Somali states by the systematic nature of its persecution of media workers.”
“This is the biggest wave of arrests of journalists for years anywhere in Somalia,” NUSOJ secretary general Omar Faruk Osman said. “The police have a duty to protect them, not to deprive them of their freedom. They must be freed at once.”
Calls and messages from RSF and NUSOJ to Somaliland interior minister Mohamed Kahin Ahmed remained unanswered.
Since 2020, RSF has been calling on the Somali governmental authorities to honour their pledge to decree a moratorium on detaining journalists for offences allegedly committed in the course of their work. The call was backed by the European Parliament in a resolution in 2021 that asked the Somali Prime Minister to declare the promised moratorium as soon as possible.
Somaliland harasses journalists more than any other state in Somalia. Of the 34 journalists arrested arbitrarily in Somalia in 2021, 12 were arrested in Somaliland, according to NUSOJ.
Somalia is ranked 161st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index.