Somaliland court closes TV channel, jails owner for five years

The extremely harsh sanctions that a court in Hargeisa, the capital of northwestern Somalia’s self-proclaimed independent republic of Somaliland, imposed yesterday on a media executive and his TV channel for no clear reason constitute very serious press freedom violations, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said.

Without giving any grounds, the court sentenced Astaan TV owner and CEO Abdimanan Yusuf to five years in prison and a fine of the equivalent of 200 euros, and closed his very popular TV channel indefinitely. Yusuf, who is an Ethiopian citizen, has been held since 17 July.

Among the various accusations initially brought against him was the claim that he had entered Somaliland illegally. “This is completely false, because he has a proper entry visa which we have seen,” RSF was told by Yayhe Mohamed, the head of the Somaliland Journalists Association (SOLJA).

It was also alleged that he collaborated with the Somali intelligence services and that his TV channel was not properly licenced. But no evidence was produced at the trial to support these claims or justify the sanctions. The National Unions of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), RSF’s partner organization in Somalia, said the accusations were “fabricated.”

The opaqueness of this case – which began with this media executive’s suspicious arrest and has ended with his TV channel being shut down without any grounds being given – no longer leaves any doubt about the gravity of the press freedom violations involved,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk.“There is no evidence that even the slightest offense has been committed. We therefore call on the authorities to release him and to allow his TV channel to resume broadcasting in Somaliland, as it does elsewhere in Somalia.

Nearly a third of the press freedom violations committed in Somalia in 2019 took place in Somaliland, which the international community does not recognize as a separate state. Somaliland’s authorities often arrest journalists and close media outlets, as RSF has repeatedly reported.

At meetings last week in Mogadishu with Somali President Mohamed Farmaajo and his new prime minister, Mohamed Hussein Roble, RSF and NUSOJ called for concrete measures to improve the very hostile environment for the media in Somalia, where 25 journalists were arrested in 2019. The prime minister told RSF and NUSOJ that the moratorium on arrests of journalists, which they have been recommending, would be adopted and implemented soon.

Somalia is ranked 163rd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.