The self-proclaimed Somaliland government has closed two major television stations in the capital Hargeisa over a two-day period. According to the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), it is the latest in a series of media suppression cases.
Police came to Universal TV premises and closed them, allegedly after the station failed to send Somaliland President Muse Bihi’s address to mark the country’s independence from Britain, according to a statement from Somaliland’s Information Minister Suleiman Yusuf Ali.
RFI contacted Ali, who was unavailable for comment.
Universal TV’s CEO Mohamed Abi Digale said that Bihi’s speech was broadcast simultaneously with festivities in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, which marked the occasion.
“They didn’t want the TV to broadcast Bihi at the same time as what’s happening in Mogadishu,” said Omar Faruk Osman, NUSOJ’s secretary general.
“It is illegal for two media organizations to be arbitrarily closed within a few days,” said Anthony Bellanger, secretary general of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).
“The IFJ demands that the Somaliland authorities cease their media office occupation and stop obstructing media freedom,” he adds.
Hargeisa and Mogadishu have maintained a détente since the Northwest Autonomous Region declared independence in May 1991 after the Civil War.
Although Somaliland has its own currency, government, school system and records of births and deaths – and even financial agreements – it has not been recognized internationally.
Non-recognition has affected Somaliland on many levels, from active participation on the world stage to benefiting from international support.
No analysis allowed
The second media shutdown last week took place on Star TV, another station that crossed the line, according to the Somaliland government.
News comes out from historical meeting in Djibouti between the Presidents of Somaliland and Somalia earlier this month were eagerly expected by Somalilanders and discussed on Star TV.
“Star did an analysis of the dialogue and made comments, especially on social inclusion – such as culture, visits, exchanges,” says NUSOJs Osman, which upset the Somaliland government, which closed the station until further notice.
Osman says that Star TV discussed issues like: “What can people in Somaliland do, can they travel to Mogadishu? Can there be a cultural exchange? Can musicians travel between Hargeisa and Mogadishu?”
“In Somali culture, there is a strong tradition of speaking independently and freely. It has not translated well into how governments handle it, says Michael Walls, Africa’s Horn expert and professor of development policy at University College London.
Responding strongly is counterproductive to the recognition case, Walls says, but the question of how the government can respond to this remains unsolved.
“The answer to this question is whether the state of Somaliland can find a way to tolerate free expression without becoming so paranoid that it undermines their own position,” he adds.
Journalist Association chief Osman says it is one of the major challenges facing this administration, “when journalists are arrested and thrown in jail, and when a person is denied to express their own opinions … It has been perceived as a small assertion of independence,” Says Osman.
“We are journalists, we are not politicians and we do not care about the secessionist agenda,” he adds.