IFJ condemns assault on media freedom in Somaliland and calls for immediate release of detained journalist

Somaliland security forces forcefully entered the headquarters of MM Somali TV, assaulting journalists and abruptly ending a televised debate on X space as well as damaging broadcast equipment during a raid on January 6, 2024. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate, the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), in condemning these actions as a grotesque blow to media freedom, and demands the immediate release of journalist Mohamed Abdi Sheikh, CEO of MM Somali TV, who remains in incommunicado custody, as two other journalists who were arrested with him during the raid were freed without any charges filed against them.

Credit: NUSOJ.

During the raid, journalists and staff members of MM Somali TV were subjected to physical violence. The security forces intentionally damaged various pieces of equipment, including computers and cameras. Additionally, some of the equipment was confiscated and taken away.

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 then forcefully placed into an unmarked vehicle believed to be owned by Somaliland intelligence services and arbitrarily detained at a location only known to security forces.

NUSOJ later obtained credible reports that the journalists who were detained in the custody of Somaliland intelligence services were subjected to interrogations involving torture in an attempt to force false confessions. Additionally, their phones and bank accounts were checked by the intelligence operatives.

Somaliland officials reportedly initiated the raid due to concerns regarding a televised debate concerning Somaliland’s relations with Ethiopia after a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed between Ethiopia and Somaliland on January 1, 2024, has ignited diplomatic tensions between Somalia and Ethiopia, leading to Somalia’s rejection and nullification of the agreement. This dispute has also triggered a strong public outcry and backlash from Somalis worldwide, demanding swift action from the Federal Government of Somalia.

In a related development, the Somaliland Minister of Information, Ali Hassan Mohamed, privately warned independent journalists and private media outlets in the morning of January 6, 2024, not to discuss issues arising from the memorandum of understanding. Local journalists believe that this is an attempt to suppress dissenting voices and stifle public discourse.

NUSOJ Secretary General, Omar Faruk Osman, said: “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”.

IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said: “We condemn in the strongest terms the assault on media freedom that took place on January 6, 2024, when Somaliland security forces forcibly entered MM Somali TV’s headquarters, disrupting a crucial televised debate and subjecting journalists to violence. We are particularly deeply concerned about the incommunicado detention of journalist Mohamed Abdi Sheikh, CEO of MM Somali TV, and demand his immediate release. These actions, along with the reported torture and privacy violations, constitute an affront to journalism and democracy. We stand in solidarity with journalists in Somaliland and our affiliate, the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), and call for an end to such suppression of free journalism”.