Somaliland authorities continue attack on free expression

Association

In late June 2018, the Human Rights Centre in Somaliland accused the government of disregarding the Paris Principles when selecting members of the National Human Rights Commission, a process the organisation said lacked transparency and was in total disregard of national and international law.

In other developments, Somaliland's vice-minister for Planning and Development deregistered seven NGOs in mid-July 2018, claiming that they were registered as local organisations, despite also being registered in other countries. Although details remain unclear, the organisations that have been targeted are based in Mogadishu, Somalia, and also have offices in Somaliland.

A major concern regarding these government actions is the arbitrary and haphazard manner in which the registrations were revoked. According to sources, there was a total disregard of due process and fair administration. One anonymous source commented on the situation, by saying:

"There was no process at all. The ministry simply made a decision. If they want us to change our status we could have done, if they inform us. But they did not. Instead, they choose to disrupt the lives of Somalilanders who relied on our support.”

Somaliland is a self-declared republic, although it is internationally recognised as an autonomous region of Somalia.

Peaceful Assembly

On 28th May 2018, 57 protesters were arrested in Laasanood, the administrative capital of the disputed Sool region in Somaliland, after what the police commissioner termed as a “stone throwing and disturbance in the city.” It is unclear what sparked the protest. 

Expression

On 23rd May 2018, a parliamentary committee of the Somaliland National Assembly issued a decision banning unauthorised press conferences and meetings in Sool region. The decision was taken in the wake of escalating conflict between the Puntland; a semi-autonomous region of Somalia, and Somaliland; a breakaway region of Somalia. As reported previously in the CIVICUS Monitor, the government of Somaliland has been restricting the space for journalists, reporters and media stations, in a bid to prevent them from reporting about the conflict on the disputed Sool region.

In yet another development, on 19th June 2018, the Attorney General’s office sought a court order to have Waaberi, a local newspaper deregistered, accusing it of improper registration. In a statement issued by the Attorney General’s office, Waaberi’s owner was accused of dual registration and illegal transfer of ownership. An investigation by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) revealed that no clause under Article 6 of Somaliland’s Press Law forbids dual registration or transferring.

In an interview with CPJ, Hassan Omar Hassan, the owner of the paper indicated that he believed the deregistration exercise by the government was a retaliation to the paper’s critical stance on authorities in Somaliland. The paper had recently published interviews with analysts who were critical towards the government, just days before the deregistration.

In responding to this arbitrary exercise by the government, Angela Quintal, CPJ's Africa program coordinator stated as follows;

"This drastic action to suspend a newspaper without giving its owner a chance to be heard underscores our concern that it is simply an excuse to silence a critical voice."

However, on 21st July 2018, it was reported that an appeals court lifted the ban on Waaberi which had been imposed by a lower court.

In a different issue, in late June 2018, the President of Somaliland pardoned journalist Mohamed Adan Dirir and blogger Mohamed Kayse Mohamoud. Dirir had been sentenced in a one-day trial on 8th October 2017 to 18 months in prison on charges of criminal defamation and publishing false news. Kayse on the other hand had been sentenced to 18 months in prison for “offending the honor of the President,” in a Facebook post. They were released from prison on 18th and 19th June 2018, respectively. On 20th June 2018, the government of Somaliland also released tribal leader King Osman Aw Mahamoud (also known as Burmadow) after serving two months in jail. He had been imprisoned in April on charges of “bringing the State into Contempt" after delivering a speech critical of the sovereignty of Somaliland at an elder’s inauguration event in the semi-autonomous Puntland earlier in the year.

Lastly, in a very positive development, on 5th July 2018, the European Parliament adopted a resolution recognising the need for urgent action in the face of grave violations of freedom of expression in Somalia, notably the government’s long-standing mistreatment of the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ). The resolution notably called for “the institution of independent and credible investigations of crimes committed against Somali journalists, the eradication of corruption, and the building of accountable institutions, especially in the security sector.”