Crackdown on journalists and protests in the run-up to and after Somaliland election

Aerial bombing and ground fighting in the Middle and Lower Shabelle regions in November forced over 10,000 people to flee, mainly to already overcrowded camps near Mogadishu, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council. Over one million people have been internally displaced since January 2017, mainly due to drought and continued insecurity in the country. 

For the past few months, there has been a deterioration in the situation for civic space in Somaliland, particularly due to judicial harassment of journalists and media in the run-up to the 13th November 2017 presidential election. The election brought Muse Bihi Abdi of the Peace, Unity, and Development Party, known as Kulmiye, to power, with domestic and international observers assessing the election as “largely peaceful” and “well organised", albeit with minor irregularities. This was the third presidential election since the self-declared republic adopted a multiparty system in 2001, although the election was delayed for almost two years due to severe drought. 

Expression

For the third consecutive year, Somalia topped the Global Impunity Index published on 31st October by the Committee to Protect Journalists. The Index rates levels of impunity of killing journalists around the world.

Somaliland: arrests, sentencing of journalists and shutdown social media

In the run-up to and aftermath of the presidential elections, several violations of the freedom of expression took place in Somaliland. On 10th November, three days prior to the presidential vote, the National Electoral Commission announced the shutdown of social media access across Somaliland from election day - 13th November - until the official announcement of the election results on 17th November. The authorities justified the ban by stating that election commentary had the potential to spark violence and spread fake news.

On 4th November, Minister of Information Osman Abdilahi Sahardid announced an indefinite ban on Kalsan TV, a UK-based Somali broadcaster, revoked the licence of the TV broadcaster and ordering the closure of its offices in Somaliland. The Human Rights Centre viewed a copy of the Minister's decision, stating that the ban is due to “violating the statehood of Somaliland and broadcasting on 3rd November of false news”. On 3rd November, Kalsan TV covered disturbances during a campaign rally of the ruling party in Laas Anood, including the use of live ammunition by security officers.

A few weeks later, on 24th November the Hargeisa Regional Court ordered the blocking of access to online news website Hadhwanaagnews on local internet provider networks. According to the Human Rights Center, the judicial order is connected to the publication of articles on the site criticising the management of the presidential election.

On 18th December, police officers arrested journalists Ahmed Sa'ed of Saab TV and Abdirahman Mohamed Ege of Eryal TV on charges of publishing false news. Both journalists ran stories about alleged misuse of public funds by the mayor of Berbera. 

The arrests follow an arrest two weeks earlier on 5th October of journalist and web designer Abdirisak Dayib Ali of the news website Haldoornews in Gabiley. According to a statement by the Human Rights Centre, Dayib Ali is accused of publishing an interview with a woman who made allegations against the mayor of Gabiley in Gabileynews.net, but Dayib Ali claims to have only created the site for the owner in 2015 and does not write for it. 

On 8th October, the Hargeisa Regional Court fined and sentenced journalist Mohamed Adan Dirir to 18 months in prison on charges of criminal defamation and publishing false news. The charges are linked to articles Adan Dirir wrote accusing a group of private schools in Hargeisa of misconduct and corruption. The one-day trial was held without the presence of Adan Dirir's lawyer. The editor for the online news portal Horseed News and owner of the news website Saylactoday has been detained since 16th September. Guleid Ahmed Jama, Chair of the Human Rights Centre declared that: 

"We request the new president, Muse Behi Abdi, to release these journalists. Freedom of media is enshrined in the Constitution and the international human rights laws. It is the obligation of the government not to suppress the media".
Somalia: two journalists killed

On 25th October, the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) announced the killing of Dayah FM radio journalist Jacfar Ali Daacad, in an exchange of fire between African Union Peacekeepers known as AMISOM and Al Shabaab militants in Lower Shabelle Province, about 25 kilometers south of capital Mogadishu.The journalist was among more than ten people, including students, who lost their lives in the ambush. 

The loss of Jacfar Ali Daacad followed the death of freelance video journalist Ali Nur Siad-Ahmed who was killed in a truck bomb attack at a crowded market in Mogadishu on 14th October which killed at least 300 civilians, although estimates of the total death toll vary widely. The same attack wounded other journalists, including Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulle of Voice of America, Mohamed Omar Bakay of Goobjoog Radio, Abdullahi Osman of Mandeeq Radio, as well as freelance journalists Abdiqani Ali Adan and Ahmed Abdi Hadi.

Peaceful Assembly

At least two protesters died and several others were injured during post-election protests in Somaliland on 15th November, when members of the Waddani opposition held a press conference alleging irregularities during the presidential poll. According to a statement by the Human Rights Centre, two civilians died in Burao and another four were injured when security forces used live ammunition to disperse the angry protesters. In Hargiesa, security forces shot and killed a female street vendor, while at least five other civilians were injured.

Association

The authorities briefly detained three opposition members from the Waddani Party on election day, then later released them that day. The detained opposition members included campaign manager Hamse Khayre, chief of staff of the presidential candidate Bashe Yousuf Ahmed and Fatimo Saeed, another senior member of the party. The opposition Waddani Party has made repeated claims that fake ballots were used during the vote.