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Independent journalists arrested in unprecedented numbers

Somalia's breakaway territory Somaliland has shut down a private television station it accuses of airing anti-government propaganda, and arrested 21 journalists who protested the move, report the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) and other IFEX members.

The government had suspended the licence of Horn Cable TV, which was raided by at least 100 officers and taken off air on 14 January, says NUSOJ. "Its activities have been suspended for disseminating anti-Somaliland propaganda, which contradicts the freedom of media," Interior Minister Mohamed Dur Arale told reporters.

In an address to Parliament earlier the same day, Somaliland President Ahmed Mahamoud Silanyo described HornCable TV as a "nation destructor", said Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Journalists in the capital Hargeisa, including from Horn Cable TV, held a demonstration against the closure on 15 January, but police violently dispersed it and arrested eight Horn Cable TV reporters. Police later hunted down and arrested 13 journalists from other media who took part in or supported the protests, says NUSOJ. All were released the following day on orders of the Interior Minister.

According to NUSOJ, the action against Horn Cable arose from its coverage of a district tribal meeting, in which politicians and elders announced the establishment of an autonomous administration under Somalia, and not Somaliland.

Local journalists told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that Horn Cable TV returned to the air briefly on 16 January and was expected to be fully functioning soon.

The move against Horn Cable TV adds to a recent spate of arrests of independent journalists in Somaliland, say NUSOJ and the other IFEX members.

According to CPJ, seven other journalists were arrested in the past week, but only Ali Ismail Aare, a reporter for the independent weekly "Waheen", remains behind bars. Aare took photographs of a gas station in the northwest town of Borama that was allegedly owned by Vice President Abdirahman Abdullahi, news reports said.

"This wave of arrests of journalists is without precedent in Somaliland," RSF said.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemned the arrests, accusing the authorities of waging a campaign of intimidation to silence independent reporting.

Somaliland declared independence from Somalia in 1991 and has enjoyed relative stability compared to the rest of Somalia. But it has not been formally recognised internationally.

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