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Attacks on the Press in 2004 - Somalia

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 2005
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2004 - Somalia, February 2005, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c566f1c.html [accessed 30 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Journalists face violence and lawlessness in Somalia, which has had no effective central government since the fall of dictator Siad Barre in 1991. The self-declared autonomous region of Puntland in the northeast, and the self-declared republic of Somaliland in the northwest, are relatively stable compared with the south, most of which remains in the hands of rival clan-based leaders. Peace and reconciliation talks aimed at reuniting Somalia under a federal government continued in Kenya in 2004, but Somaliland refused to join the negotiations.

Some hope emerged in August, when, after nearly two years of talks, the peace conference established a transition Parliament for the country. Parliament subsequently elected Puntland strongman Abdullahi Yusuf as Somalia's new president; Yusuf, in turn, appointed a leader from another major clan as prime minister and promised to work for reconciliation. Still, the new president and his advisers had yet to come to the capital, Mogadishu, to govern by year's end because of security concerns. Local journalists expressed concern that Yusuf had a record of repressing the media as president of Puntland.

Journalists in southern Somalia face frequent threats, harassment, assaults, and imprisonment at the hands of rival factions, but the Somali Journalists Network (SOJON) says many more attacks go unreported because journalists fear further reprisals.

Abshir Ali Gabre, news editor of independent station Radio Jawhar, was twice detained on the orders of faction leader Mohamed Dhere over reports criticizing Dhere's position on the Kenya peace talks. Dhere is chairman of the self-appointed administration in Jawhar, north of Mogadishu. Radio Jawhar, the only station in the region, was censored regularly by Dhere, whose militia paid frequent visits to the outlet's offices, SOJON reported.

In September, Abdiqani Sheik Mohamed, a correspondent for the private Mogadishu-based Radio Banadir, was detained and beaten by militiamen loyal to Dhere on the main road of Jawhar. The attack came after Radio Banadir had broadcast a report by Abdiqani Sheik about a dispute over the management of a Jawhar mosque, according to SOJON. Dhere's administration then issued a decree that same month banning Abdiqani Sheik from practicing journalism.

Other factions attacked the press as well. In June, militiamen loyal to Muse Sudi Yalahow detained journalist Abdirahman Ali Subiye of Holy Koran Radio in Mogadishu for taking pictures of them at talks intended to mediate a conflict with a rival militia. Yalahow's militia confiscated and destroyed Subiye's camera, accused the journalist of being a spy for Yalahow's rival, and beat him with their guns.

Rogue violence is less common in Somaliland and Puntland, but authorities there are often intolerant of the independent press. In April, Puntland authorities imprisoned Abdishakur Yusuf Ali, editor of the independent weekly War-Ogaal (Knowledgeable), for more than a month after the paper published an article accusing the region's finance minister of corruption. Abdishakur was sentenced to six months in prison for "publishing false information," but SOJON and local human rights groups successfully pressured authorities to reduce the sentence to a fine.

In January, two journalists working for Mogadishu-based radio stations were arrested and detained for about eight hours in the Puntland city of Garowe. Ali Bashi Mohammed Haji of Radio Banadir and Mohammed Sadak Abdi Guunbe of Radio Shabelle were finally released without charge. Local sources said the journalists were suspected of filing stories for their stations on sensitive topics, including a border dispute between Puntland and Somaliland; Somaliland and Puntland each claim the Sool and Sanaag regions.

Somaliland declared independence in 1991, but it is still seeking international recognition. Journalists say press freedom has improved slightly there, with growing public awareness and slightly greater government tolerance. However, authorities still prohibit private radio stations, and they continue to harass independent journalists. Press, human rights, and opposition groups successfully lobbied for the removal of several repressive clauses in a new press law passed in the region in January.

Among the deleted provisions was one that would have barred media "interference" in politics, religion, and culture. Journalists face criminal sanctions for defamation, publishing false information, and "offending the honor or prestige of the head of state."

Somaliland journalists say that sensitive subjects include the border dispute with Puntland, government corruption, and relations with the south. In August, police arrested Hassan Said Yusuf, editor of the independent Somali-language daily Jamhuuriya (The Republican), after he published an article about the Somaliland government's stance on the peace talks. The article suggested that Somaliland's main opposition party, Kulmiye, took a harder line against the peace talks than Somaliland's government, according to local sources. Yusuf was charged with publishing false information and released on bail a week later. By October, a court had acquitted him of all charges, saying the prosecution failed to prove its case.


2004 Documented Cases – Somalia

JANUARY 22, 2004

Ali Bashi Mohammed Haji, Radio Banadir
Mohammed Sadak Abdi Guunbe, Radio Shabelle
HARRASSED

Haji, a reporter with Radio Banadir, and Guunbe, a reporter with Radio Shabelle, were arrested at their hotel in the Puntland city of Garowe around midnight on the night of January 21 to 22 and held for about eight hours, according to local press freedom groups. Local sources believe that the journalists were suspected of sending sensitive political reports to their radio stations in Mogadishu, including coverage of a border dispute between the self-declared autonomous region of Puntland and the self-declared republic of Somaliland.

Haji is based in Mogadishu, while Guunbe is normally based in the Puntland city of Galkayo. The two were on their way to the Puntland commercial city of Bossasso. After their release, the men were allowed to proceed to Bossasso, according to the Somali Journalists Network (SOJON). SOJON quoted Radio Banadir's deputy director as saying that the Puntland authorities later apologized for the incident. However, SOJON expressed concern about the current situation of journalists in Puntland, where it said they were frequently threatened, arrested and censored.

Somalia has had no central government since the collapse of the Siad Barre regime in 1991. Some authority, however, has emerged in Mogadishu, in Puntland (northeast), and Somaliland (northwest). Ongoing peace talks in Kenya, boycotted by Somaliland, have increased rivalry between the various factions in Somalia. Tension between Puntland and Somaliland has recently escalated over the disputed border regions of Sool and Sanaag.

FEBRUARY 24, 2004
Posted: March 2, 2004

Abshir Ali Gabre, Radio Jawhar
HARRASSED

Ali Gabre, news editor at the independent Radio Jawhar, was held overnight on the orders of Somali faction leader Mohamed Omar Habeeb, also known as Mohamed Dere. Dere is chairman of the self-appointed Jawhar administration.

Gabre was arrested at the radio station at about 8 p.m. and detained for around 14 hours in connection with a report that he had just broadcast, according to local journalists' organizations. During the report, the journalist pointed out that Dere and his allies had signed a January 29 peace agreement in Kenya, even though he had recently stated that he did not support the accord.

Somalia has had no central government since the collapse of the Siad Barre regime in 1991 and is divided between rival faction leaders. Peace talks between the main faction leaders and the weak, Mogadishu-based Transitional National Government have been ongoing for more than a year in Kenya. In January, all the main faction leaders signed an agreement to create a new national parliament that will in turn elect a president.

Gabre was taken to a police cell and detained overnight. The police station commander told Gabre that Dere had ordered his arrest, according to the Somali Journalists Network (SOJON). Gabre was questioned repeatedly about why he had read the offending report.

Following a recent visit to Jawhar, which is about 56 miles (90 kilometers) north of the capital, Mogadishu, SOJON said that journalists there were "censored daily" by Mohamed Dere, with the militia regularly going to Radio Jawhar, the only station in the region.

FEBRUARY 24, 2004
Posted: March 15, 2004

Mohamed Hussein Joma ("Rambo"), Jamhuuriya
Mohamed Abdi Urad, Jamhuuriya
HARRASSED

Police arrested Rambo and Urad, both journalists for independent daily Jamhuuriya, at the Somaliland Supreme Court in the capital, Hargeisa, while they were covering the trial of prominent traditional elder Boqor (or king) Usman Mahmud, who was accused of destabilizing Somaliland. The two journalists were taken to the police station and held for four hours before being released without charge, according to local journalists' organizations.

The two reporters were arrested while taking photographs at Boqor's trial, according to local journalists. They said the courtroom was tense, with a number of Boqor's supporters attending and a heavy police presence. The elder was arrested on January 27 and accused of undermining the state by having contacts with the neighboring self-declared autonomous region of Puntland, according to the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN). Somaliland declared independence from the rest of Somalia in 1991 but has not been internationally recognized. Tension has been high between Somaliland and Puntland over the Sool and Sanaag regions, which are claimed by both.

Rambo and Urad were arrested after taking photos of the police and of the courtroom crowd. Police subsequently apologized for the journalists' detention, saying it was a mistake.

APRIL 21, 2004
Updated: July 2, 2004

Abdishakur Yusuf Ali, War-Ogaal
IMPRISONED

Abdishakur, editor of the independent weekly War-Ogaal, was arrested April 21, 2004, and imprisoned for more than a month in the self-declared autonomous region of Puntland in Somalia. The arrest came after War-Ogaal published an article accusing Puntland Finance Minister Abdirahman Mohamud Farole of corruption in connection with a food assistance program, local journalists said.

Abdishakur was freed June 1 after being brought before a Bossasso court, according to the Somali journalists' group SOJON. The court sentenced Abdishakur to six months in prison for "publishing false information" but SOJON and a local human rights group opened talks with the Puntland administration and the court, which agreed to reduce the sentence to a Somali shilling fine equivalent to $140. Abdishakur was released after the fine was paid, SOJON said.

While in prison, local journalists said, Abdishakur resisted pressure to sign a statement admitting to publishing false information. Puntland Information Minister Abdikarim Ali Mahdi told CPJ that the finance minister wanted an apology, but denied that Abdishakur had been pressured.

APRIL 26, 2004
Posted: May 3, 2004

Abdirahman Haji Dahir, Haatuf
IMPRISONED, LEGAL ACTION

Dahir, a reporter for independent Somaliland daily Haatuf, was arrested at around 8 a.m. local time in the port city of Berbera because of an article alleging differences between Somaliland President Dahir Riyale Kahin and his vice president, said local journalists. He was held in custody at Berbera central police station, where he was questioned about the offending article. Dahir was brought before the Berbera regional court on the morning of April 28, and charged with publishing false information alleging differences between President Kahin and Vice President Ahmed Yusuf Yassin over whether or not to fire certain government officials. He was given a six-month suspended prison sentence and released around noon the same day.

The April 25 edition of Haatuf, which carried the article, was submitted as evidence in Dahir's brief trial. He did not have access to legal counseling during the trial, according to CPJ sources.

MAY 6, 2004
Posted: May 12, 2004

Abshir Ali Gabre, Radio Jawhar
Abdulgani Sheikh Mohamed, Radio Jawhar
IMPRISONED

Abshir Ali, editor-in-chief at the independent station Radio Jawhar, and Abdulgani Sheikh, news editor at the station, were arrested and detained for 48 hours on the orders of faction leader Mohamed Dhere, according to local press freedom groups. Dhere is chairman of the self-appointed administration in Jawhar, about 56 miles (90 kilometers) north of Somalia's capital, Mogadishu.

Armed men arrested the two journalists after Radio Jawhar reported that the regional body the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, which is sponsoring negotiations to end more than 10 years of civil conflict in Somalia, was urging reticent leaders, including Dhere, to return to the peace talks in Nairobi, Kenya. Radio Jawhar went off the air to protest the arrest of its journalists.

"We were told we would be charged, but were then released without charge on Saturday morning [May 8, 2004]," Abshir Ali told the U.N. news agency IRIN. "This was pure intimidation of the independent press."

This is the second time that Abshir Ali has been detained in recent months. On February 24, 2004, he was detained overnight, also on Dhere's orders, because of a report on the peace process that displeased the local administration, according to local journalists' organizations.

JUNE 15, 2004
Posted: June 29, 2004

Abdirahman Ali Subiye, Holy Quran Radio
ATTACKED, CENSORED

Hassan Haji Hanafi, Holy Quran Radio
Fardowso Mohammed Abdulle, Radio HornAfrik
THREATENED

Subiye and Hanafi, reporters for the private Holy Quran Radio, and Abdulle, a reporter for the private Radio HornAfrik, went to a northern district of the capital, Mogadishu, to cover the mediation of a conflict between rival militias headed by warlord Muse Sudi Yalahow and businessman Bashir Ragge Shirar.

The journalists were reporting on both the mediation talks and the reactions of local residents who had been affected by fighting between the two factions. When militiamen loyal to Yalahow spotted Subiye taking pictures of them at Yalahow's headquarters, where the talks were being held, they detained him. According to Abdulle, Yalahow confiscated Subiye's camera and had it run over by a car. Abdulle said that Yalahow accused Subiye of being a spy for Shirar.

Yalahow's men then beat Subiye with the backs of their guns. When Abdulle and Hanafi tried to intervene on Subiye's behalf, the militiamen threatened to beat them as well. The journalists informed the district elders who were serving as mediators between the two factions about the attack, and the elders eventually intervened to stop it.

Subiye sustained minor injuries. Sources in Mogadishu said that Subiye changed his residence out of fear of further harassment by Yalahow's militia.

JULY 6, 2004
Posted: July 7, 2004

Jamaal Salah Adam, Radio Galkayo
HARASSED

Adam, a reporter for Radio Galkayo, was arrested in Galkayo as he interviewed protesters demonstrating against a local government construction plan, according to Somali press freedom groups.

Galkayo Mayor Hussein Jama Yabaq came to the scene, intervening as Adam interviewed anti-government protesters and slapping the journalist, Radio Galkayo told the press freedom group SOJON. Adam was arrested by the mayor's security guards, who also beat him, SOJON reported.

Adam was detained for around nine hours. He was released in the evening, after local journalists and press freedom groups exerted pressure on the Galkayo authorities, SOJON said.

AUGUST 31, 2004
Updated: October 7, 2004

Hassan Said Yusuf, Jamhuuriya and The Republican
IMPRISONED, LEGAL ACTION

Police arrested Yusuf, editor-in-chief of the independent Somali-language daily Jamhuuriya and its weekly English-language edition, The Republican, in the self-declared republic of Somaliland.

Yusuf was arrested at his office in Somaliland's capital, Hargeisa, by police officers armed with a warrant, according to local press freedom organizations. His arrest stemmed from a news article published in Jamhuuriya on August 30 about the Somaliland government's stance on peace talks in Kenya between neighboring Somalia's Transitional National Government and warring Somali factions. Somaliland has refused invitations to participate in the talks.

The article suggested that Somaliland's main opposition party, Kulmiye, took a harder stance against participating in the peace talks than Somaliland's government, according to local sources. Yusuf's arrest was condemned by local press freedom organizations, including the Somali Journalists Network (SOJON) and the Press Freedom Violation Monitors.

Yusuf was charged with publishing false information and released on bail on September 5, according to SOJON. His trial began on September 9, and on October 4, the court acquitted him of all charges, saying the prosecution had failed to prove its case.

Yusuf and other journalists working for Jamhuuriya have been targeted by Somaliland authorities before. In October 2003, police detained Yusuf for nine hours in Hargeisa, and accused him of publishing information that was "not good for the government." In February 2004, police arrested two reporters working for Jamhuuriya at the Somaliland Supreme Court while they were covering the trial of a prominent traditional elder accused of destabilizing Somaliland. The two journalists were held for four hours before being released without charge, according to local journalists' organizations.

SEPTEMBER 26, 2004
Updated: February 7, 2004

Abdiqani Sheik Mohamed, Radio Jawhar and Radio Banadir
ATTACKED, CENSORED

Abdiqani Sheik was detained and beaten by militiamen loyal to faction leader Mohamed Dhere on the main road of Jawhar, a town north of the capital, Mogadishu. The attack came after the private, Mogadishu-based Radio Banadir broadcast a report by Abdiqani Sheik on a dispute over the management of Jawhar mosque, according to local press freedom group SOJON. Dhere is chairman of the self-appointed administration in the Middle Shabelle region, which is north of Mogadishu. Abdiqani Sheik is a journalist with the private station Radio Jawhar and a local correspondent for Radio Banadir, according to SOJON.

On September 27, Dhere's spokesman Hassan Ali Mohamud issued a decree stating that Abdiqani Sheik was banned from practicing journalism. The journalist subsequently fled to Mogadishu.

On November 20, following protests by local and international press freedom groups, Jawhar authorities offered to lift the ban if Abdiqani Sheik admitted spreading "false" information and asked for amnesty, according to SOJON. Abdiqani Sheik refused. Local sources said the journalist had returned to Jawhar to be with his family but was not working.

On February 3, 2005, Jawhar authorities authorized Abdiqani Sheik to return to work for Radio Banadir and Radio Jawhar. The authorization came from the administration's chief security officer, Ahmed Omar Habeeb "Jaandhay," who is Dhere's brother, according to SOJON. This came a day after the arrival of 30 parliamentarians in Mogadishu to review security conditions for the arrival of a transitional federal government and parliament elected by a Somali peace conference in Kenya.

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