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Two Somaliland journalists detained for 12 hours, after trying to photograph arguing MPs during parliament session

IPI concerned at Somaliland media freedom climate

(IPI/IFEX) - Vienna, 31 August - Two journalists were arrested and held for 12 hours on Saturday while covering a parliamentary session in Hargeisa, Somaliland, according to a local media rights group and news sources.

Local news sources said Ibrahim Abdirahman Qasim, a cameraman for WARYA TV and Saraar News Online, was arrested and his camera and equipment were confiscated by police as the journalists tried to photograph arguing MPs. Hassan Budul Abdillah was arrested at the same time.

Both journalists were released twelve hours later without charge, and no reason for the arrest was given, Media Rights Somaliland (MeRiS) director Mukhtar Hassan told IPI.

At the time of the arrests, the lower house of parliament was embroiled in a heated verbal joust between members of the President's ruling UDUB party and the opposition, who hold a majority in the house.

President Dahir Rayale Kahin has been criticized by the opposition and civil society groups over his behaviour in the run-up to presidential elections.

"In the run-up to the elections on 27 September, the president wants to muscle up against the independent press," Adam Ismail, editor in chief of the online newspaper The Somaliland Globe, told IPI by phone.

The recent arrests of several Somaliland journalists have fuelled concern at an apparent crackdown on the independent media as the presidential elections approach.

"The Somaliland authorities must respect freedom of the press," said IPI Deputy Director Alison Bethel McKenzie. "This is all the more important in the run-up to presidential elections."

On 3 August, Radio Horyaal and somaliland.org reporter Foosi Saleebaan Awbiindhe was detained for allegedly producing "false reports." Awbiindhe is known for covering corruption cases in the town of Burao, MeRiS's Hassan told IPI. After being held for several weeks, Awbiindhe was tried and released on 25 August, on the condition that he no longer report for Radio Horyaal.

In a separate incident on 13 August, berberanews.com reporter Yasin Jama Ali was arrested in the port city Berbera for "spreading scandals against the nation," according to National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) sources. Ali was charged along with news site editor Mohamed Said Abdullahi, who was tried in absentia after going into hiding.

On 23 August the two journalists were found guilty of committing a "crime against the Somaliland nation". Ali is now banned from practicing journalism until further notice from the court, and Abdullahi has been sentenced to three years in prison. (He remains in hiding).

Ismail, whose news site runs from London but whose reporters are based in Somaliland, described to IPI the current media environment: "It is very difficult to run a newspaper, although there are many newspapers and many journalists. They operate in a climate of fear and intimidation."

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