Reporters Without Borders and its partner organisation, the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), today accused the police in the autonomous northeastern region of Puntland of “outrageous behaviour and ferocity” towards the independent news media.
The two organisations said they were particularly appalled by prison conditions in Bossasso, where a journalist with a privately-owned radio station, the Somalia TV Network (STN), was detained for a second time and subjected to severe physical mistreatment at the end of September after he criticised conditions in the jail.
“Despite our repeated appeals, the current president of Somalia’s transitional federal government, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, has failed to establish the rule of law in Puntland although he has a great deal of influence in the region,” the organisations said.
“Nonetheless, urgent action is needed as the two main cities, Garowe and Bossasso, have become high-risk areas for journalists and the authorities have no qualms about gagging news media they dislike,” Reporters Without Borders and NUSOJ said. “If President Ahmed’s promises of democracy are not to lose all credibility in the eyes of the international community, he must stop ignoring the accelerating loss of press freedom in his own fiefdom.”
STN editor in chief Awale Jama Salad was arrested in Bossasso, mistreated and detained in degrading conditions for the second time this year in September. His arrest, on 26 September, came after he gave an account on the air of his earlier detention in June and July. He was repeatedly punched by policemen following his arrest. When STN manager Abdisarak Shek Adun tried to visit Salad at the police station, he was turned away and told he would be arrested if he came back. Salad was transferred on 27 September to the headquarters of the Puntland Intelligence Service (PIS).
Both Salad and Adun had been arrested on 30 June and detained for nearly two weeks as a result of an interview STN broadcast with a candidate for the post of Bossasso mayor. At the same time, several municipal council members were reportedly arrested after having releases broadcast on STN. The two journalists were finally freed on 12 July following a presidential pardon.
When transferred to intelligence headquarters on 27 September, Salad was put in a small, poorly-ventilated room with open toilets along with some 70 other ordinary detainees, including suspected murderers, thieves and drug traffickers. The quantity of food they were given was not enough for all the detainees, with the result there were fights over the food. The only source of water was the toilet plumbing. Salad was finally released on 28 September following pressure from national and international organisations.
NUSOJ secretary-general Omar Faruk Osman said: “The illegal detention and mistreatment of Salad were unspeakable abuses designed to send journalists a clear message that they should tone down their criticism of the government, police and civil service. Journalists are being given the choice of singing the praises of the authorities or resigning themselves to the stench of prison.”
Before beginning to target STN, the authorities reduced the opposition weekly Shacab (The Voice of the People) to silence. Shacab editor Abdi Farah Nur and one of his journalists, Abdirashid Qoransey, were arrested by the Puntland police on 20 April, imprisoned and were tried a few days later on charges of “inciting violence and insulting the president” in two articles. They were both acquitted.
Information ministry representatives and other officials began visiting the newspaper on 28 April about licence permits and taxes that Shacab has allegedly not paid, threatening during these visits to close the newspaper. This was finally done on 5 May in a decree by Puntland Vice-President Hassan Dahir Afqurac, which claimed that “articles recently published in Shacab were the cause of a crisis that could have led to violence. Fearing imprisonment, Nur fled the country.