Somaliland: UK Based Focus Group Expresses Concern over Draconian Media Laws and Harassment

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By: Yusuf M Hasan

Somalilandsun – The prevalent harassment of the fourth estate and draconian laws established by the Kulmiye government are detrimental to the so far successful democratization process in Somaliland.

This is per a letter to the foreign minister Mohamed Behi Yonis submitted by the UK based Somaliland focus group in which the group urges the government to cool down its horses.

Established in 2005, the Somaliland Focus whose aims are to raise awareness of the democratic achievements of Somaliland has successfully taken a high profile part in the country’s democratization process most notably during the parliamentary, presidential and local council elections of 2005, 2010 and 2012 respectively

In partnership with Progressio and UCL’s Development Planning Unit the Somaliland Focus group co-organised the international election observation team for the three elections in Somaliland

Read the full verbatim excerpts of the letter

Mr Mohammed Behi Younis, Foreign Minister Republic of Somaliland

(cc: Mr Abdullahi Mohamed Dahir, Information Minister)

11 November 2013 Dear Minister,

I write as the Vice-Chair of Somaliland Focus (UK). We would like to offer you our congratulations at your appointment as Foreign Minister.

Since 2005, Somaliland Focus has been making the case for wider awareness of Somaliland and its democratic process, acting as joint coordinators of the international observers to Somaliland’s elections in 2010 and 2012, and through our involvement with the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group for Somaliland and Somalia. We’ve been proud to be associated with the achievements of Somaliland.

Yet we are moved to write to express our concerns about harassment and intimidation of news media members in Somaliland. We are copying this letter to your colleague Mr Abdullahi Mohamed Dahir, the Minister of Information. Media freedom is relevant to both of your briefs as it reflects on Somaliland internationally, and ensuring a free media is the responsibility of the entire government.

We note there have been numerous incidents, prompting the concern of groups inside and outside Somaliland. Most prominent lately has been the targeting of Hubaal newspaper, which in April saw its office in Hargeisa attacked, with injuries to staff members. In June, publication was suspended after articles critical of Somaliland’s government appeared, and its editor-in-chief and managing director were imprisoned. Although the men have since been released and publication has recommenced, the events constitute a major breach of the freedom of the press, explicitly protected by law in Somaliland.

The Hubaal affair is part of a long chain of events. In 2012 numerous journalists were arrested and a television station, HornCableTV, was shut down, while in 2011, the editor of the Jamhuuriya newspaper was arrested.

That year also saw threats from ministers and security personnel towards the chief editor of YOOL, another newspaper, the arrest and imprisonment of Mahamud Abdi Jama, the editor of Waaheen, and an award-winning African journalist, and the arrest and imprisonment of a reporter for Haatuf.

Some of the arrests have been on grounds of criminal defamation and others apparently at the behest of regional governors. While pardons and releases have followed, such actions have a chilling effect on the proper functioning of the media and are likely to lead to ineffective coverage and self-censorship. There is a significant need for fully institutionalising the freedom of the media, particularly in making defamation a civil rather than a criminal offence, and in local governors not being able to organise the arrest of journalists.

Yet we note concerns reported in local media about proposed press law changes which could further undermine media freedom. Actions against media are becoming a regrettable hallmark of Somaliland administrations past and present, and negatively affecting our ability to effectively advocate for Somaliland. We urge that you and other policymakers address this compromising of a vital democratic pillar, which in turn undermines the completion of Somaliland’s transition into the multi-party democracy to which you have committed yourselves.

Yours faithfully,

Dr Steve Kibble

Vice-Chair,

Somaliland Focus (UK)

For more details on Somaliland Focus as well as concise information on relevant activites of the group as pertains to active participation in the democratization process of somaliland kindly contact info@somalilandfocus.org.uk – or via Twitter @SomalilandFocus or visit the official site http://www.somalilandfocus.org.uk/

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