January 7, 2024 – The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) strongly condemns the egregious assault on press freedom and the arbitrary detention of journalists by Somaliland security forces who raided and forcefully entered the headquarters of the privately-owned television network, Maan Media TV, popularly known as MM Somali TV, on Saturday evening, January 6, 2024.
During the raid, journalists and staff members of MM Somali TV were subjected to physical violence. An ongoing debate session at X (formerly Twitter) Space, titled “The benefits and dangers of the agreement between Ethiopia and Somaliland,” was forcibly and abruptly halted, leaving the online participants of the debate bewildered about the interruption. Various pieces of equipment, including computers and cameras, were intentionally damaged by the security forces.
During this violent operation, journalists Mohamed Abdi Sheikh (commonly known as Mohamed Ilig), who serves as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at MM Somali TV, Mohamed Abdi Abdullahi (Andar), a reporter and Ilyas Abdinasir, a media worker and technician, were blindfolded. They were subsequently forcefully placed into an unmarked vehicle believed to be owned by Somaliland intelligence services and arbitrarily detained at an undisclosed location. Furthermore, additional equipment was seized by the security forces.
The motive behind this unjustifiable raid and arbitrary arrests is deeply troubling. Somaliland officials reportedly took offense at the content of the public debate, realizing as the debate progressed that it would further intensify public opinion and provoke a backlash against the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between Ethiopia and Somaliland on January 1, 2024. According to a journalist in Hargeisa, MM Somali TV had indeed informed the Somaliland administration about the debate and is believed to have provided tacit approval to the individual participating in the debate in favour of the MOU. The TV emphasized the importance of free and open discourse on such significant matters.
In a related development, the Somaliland Minister of Information, Ali Hassan Mohamed, privately warned independent journalists and private media outlets on Saturday morning against discussing issues related to the MOU, specifically advising them not to cover the unfolding diplomatic reactions and public protests against the deal. This action, perceived by local journalists as chilling, is intended to suppress dissenting voices and stifle public discourse, thereby undermining the principles of democracy and freedom of expression.
NUSOJ Secretary General, Omar Faruk Osman, stated, “The raid on MM Somali TV and the arbitrary detention of journalists are disgraceful acts of repression against press freedom. We demand the immediate and unconditional release of our colleagues and an end to the harassment and intimidation of journalists. Somaliland authorities must respect the fundamental right to free expression and the vital role of the media in promoting transparency and accountability”.
“If Somaliland authorities genuinely believe in the MOU and its content, it should be allowed to withstand public scrutiny and accept accountability, rather than attempting to target courageous journalists and suppress the public from accessing diverse opinions and unfettered access to all relevant information. By arbitrarily detaining journalists, the authorities only confirm that they have something to hide and do not want certain information to become public knowledge” added Osman.
Over the past week, the MOU between Ethiopia and Somaliland has ignited diplomatic tensions between Somalia and Ethiopia, resulting in Somalia’s rejection and nullification of the MOU. The MOU has also triggered strong public outcry and backlash from Somalis worldwide, demanding swift action from the Federal Government of Somalia.
MM Somali TV is an independent media outlet that broadcasts news programs and stories about the Somali community. Sadly, this is not the first time MM Somali TV and its journalists have faced oppression by Somaliland authorities. Journalists, including Mohamed Ilig, have been previously arrested, unjustly charged and convicted with jail terms. The network has also been subjected to hefty fines, reflecting a pattern of attempting to financially cripple the media outlet.
In its steadfast commitment to defending press freedom and the rights of journalists in Somalia, NUSOJ urges Somaliland authorities to respect and uphold the principles of democracy, free expression and the rule of law. This should begin with putting an end to the persecution of journalists and the suppression of critical reporting.