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Media freedom groups call for an end to closure of Somaliland newspaper

Authorities in Somaliland must re-open the offices of an independent newspaper in Hargeisa, says the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

According to an IFJ affiliate, the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), Hubaal newspaper in Hargeisa, Somaliland, has been closed since 13 December, 2013, following a raid by the police rapid reinforcement unit (RRU). Police continue to occupy the newspaper's headquarters.

“We are deeply disturbed by the actions of Somaliland authorities to shut down Hubaal newspaper and forcefully occupy its offices,” said Gabriel Baglo, IFJ Africa Director. “Authorities in Hargeisa should halt their on-going crackdown on Hubaal and allow it to operate without fear of reprisal”.

Somaliland police have accused Hubaal newspaper of dividing the police leadership and misleading security officials, while also claiming that they obtained a court order to close the paper down, although the NUSOJ says they failed to produce this order during the raid.

"The continued closure of Hubaal and presence of police in their offices is nothing but censorship and an attempt to intimidate other media from being critical," said NUSOJ Secretary General Omar Faruk Osman. "Somaliland should withdraw all its forces immediately. Hubaal newspaper and its journalists are exercising their journalistic duty and the authorities must not target them because of their media work.”

Harassment of Hubaal newspaper and its journalists has increased since April 2013 as the newspaper has been covering critical issues. On 11 June 2013, a Somaliland regional court in Hargeisa banned the publishing and distribution of the paper.

On 3 July, Hubaal editor Hassan Hussein Keefkeef was sentenced to two years in jail, while the paper's manager Mohamed Ahmed Jama Aloley received a one-year sentence. Both men were also ordered to pay a 2,000,000-shilling ($350) fine each, Marodi Jeh Regional Court Judge Osman Ibrahim Dahir told the media.

The two journalists were found guilty of reporting “false news”, “slandering top Somaliland officials”, and “falsely accusing employees of the Ethiopian consulate of smuggling alcohol into Hargeisa”. The President of Somaliland later pardoned both journalists and the newspaper was allowed to resume its operations.

On 24 April 2013, two gunmen attacked the headquarters of the newspaper, injuring managing director Mohamed Ahmed Jama. The two gunmen are believed to be Somaliland police, and one of the policemen was caught by the Hubaal staffers and was later released by Somaliland authorities.

“Clearly this is systematic campaign to censor and intimidate an independent newspaper in Somaliland. Hubaal is a victim of its reporting about what is really happening in Somaliland,” added Baglo.

The IFJ urges Somaliland to ensure that independent media outlets are not harassed, and to allow Somaliland journalists to practice their profession without fear of retaliation.

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