Tensions have been rising in the self-declared Republic of Somaliland in the period leading up to an election campaign and a 27 September presidential vote. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is condemning recent media arrests and government banning orders on a radio and TV outlet.
CPJ warns that unless the courts dismiss the charges later this month and free two broadcast executives, a full-fledged crackdown by authorities may be gearing up in the breakaway territory.
“They see the independent press as being opposed to the president. And they’re afraid of any sort of criticism, so they’re trying to quash it down,” explained CPJ Africa program coordinator Tom Rhodes.
On 13 July, police in the capital Hargeisa arrested the director and news editor of private station Radio Horyaal on charges of inciting violence. The broadcasters continue to be held at the Criminal Investigation Department.
Clan violence broke out three days earlier after the station broadcast coverage of a land dispute between two clans, involving republic President Dahir Rayale Kahin and one of the republic’s two legislative bodies, a 25-member clan council known as the House of Elders. The CPJ’s Tom Rhodes claims the incitement charges, which try to connect the disturbances with sensationalized radio coverage lack substance.
“I believe this is a directive made by one individual. I wouldn’t want to blame the entire Somaliland for this directive. But it does give you the impression of how they view Radio Horyaal as an opposition radio and an enemy to the government,” he observed.
Somaliland is an autonomous region of the Somali republic, which declared independence from the Somali republic in 1991 after the dissolution of Somali President Mohamed Siad Barre’s government. It has succeeded in establishing trade ties with neighboring Ethiopia, but Hargeisa’s sovereignty has not been recognized by any countries around the world.
“Somaliland is quite sensitive to international opinion, largely because they want that recognition of independence. They’ve come a long way compared to the rest of the country (the Mogadishu-ruled Somali Republic) in establishing a working government and a working, viable system. And so whenever there is criticism, it jeopardizes their chances of actually reaching their status of independence,” Rhodes explained.
He believes that domestic violence is a very sensitive issue for President Kahin since he represents one of the two clans in the current land dispute. The president was elected to his first five-year term in 2003, after assuming office the previous year on the death of Mohammad Hajj Ibrahim Egal. Presidential elections set for 31 August, 2008 had to be postponed until this September due to instability in Somaliland’s eastern regions.
CPJ is warning that as the elections approach, authorities are trying to silence critical reporting. Nine days ago, Judge Sheikh Hussein Warfa banned private radio and TV outlets HornCable in support of a petition by the country’s attorney general for reportedly inciting violence and spreading false information. The broadcaster has defied the ban and will attend a court hearing on July 28.
Meanwhile, Britain and Sweden reportedly have threatened to withhold funds for September’s vote if Hargeisa cannot resolve a corruption dispute within the territory’s electoral commission.