At a joint press conference today, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and a partner organization, the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), condemned the decline in press freedom in Puntland, a semi-autonomous region in northeastern Somalia, and called for the release of a journalist imprisoned there.
Freelance reporter Kilwe Adan Farah is still being held in the main prison in Garowe, Puntland’s capital, nearly two months after the Puntland police arrested him and Farah Mohamed Khalif, another freelancer known as “Yemen,” on 27 December. According to NUSOJ’s information, they were arrested in connection with the publication of photos of protests against the accelerating inflation in Puntland.
Khalif has since been freed but Kilwe is still detained without being formally charged with any crime. His situation is all the more worrying because he was held incommunicado for the first month without anyone being able to find out what had happened to him. Puntland’s journalists think his detention is meant to send a message to those who might dare to cover demonstrations and protests against the local authorities.
On 22 February, Ahmed Botan Arab, a freelancer was also arrested by the Puntland police in the city of Bossasso after posting video interviews of local residents commenting on a speech about the political situation in Somalia that Puntland President Said Abdullahi Deni had given the day before. Speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, a Bossasso-based journalist told NUSOJ that the authorities initially threatened Arab in an attempt to dissuade him from posting the interviews on his YouTube channel, and then arrested him after the video sent viral. Accused of “spreading misinformation’, he was eventually released yesterday on 24 February.
“Puntland’s journalists are courageous professionals who do their duty to report the news in a very hostile environment that includes intimidation, threats and even imprisonment,” NUSOJ secretary general Omar Faruk Osman said. “Puntland must reverse this repressive trend and allow journalists to work without reprisals, censorship or any other form of restriction.”
“Puntland’s authorities cannot publicly claim to be actively helping to democratize Somalia while at the same time carrying out completely arbitrary arrests of journalists which, on the contrary, help to undermine the current electoral process,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “The release of the detained journalist is an essential condition for holding credible elections. We also urge the Somali federal authorities to do everything possible to ensure that these repeated arrests of journalists are brought to an end, as they pledged to do.”
Somalia is currently in the throes of a major political crisis that prevented parliamentary and presidential elections from being held in December 2020 and January 2021, as initially envisaged.
During an unprecedented visit to Somalia by RSF last October, RSF and NUSOJ met with Somali President Mohamed Farmaajo and Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble, and asked them to take concrete measures to improve the very hostile environment for the Somali media. The prime minister undertook to implement a moratorium on arrests of journalists.
Somalia is ranked 163rd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.