Police in Somalia’s breakaway Somaliland region arrested at least seven journalists Wednesday, including a VOA reporter, as they covered a prison scuffle in the region’s capital, Hargeisa.
VOA Somali stringer Sagal Mustafe Hassan was freed after a short detention, but the other journalists remained in custody at Hargeisa’s central police station.
Among the journalists arrested were BBC reporter Hassan Gallaydh, local MM TV journalist Mohamed Ilig and Ahmed Mohamud Yusuf of Saab TV.
Authorities did not say why the journalists were arrested. Colleagues and family members told VOA that some of them were broadcasting live at the time of their arrest outside the prison, where about 150 criminal and terror convicts are held.
“There are people who misinformed the public about the small incident that happened at the prison. We hold them accountable, and we will not allow such people to go unpunished,” said the commander-in-chief of the Somaliland Custodial Corps, Brigadier General Ahmed Awale Yusuf, in a news conference following the incident.
On March 18, gunmen later identified as members of the intelligence services attacked three journalists riding in a car in Hargeisa and kidnapped one of them, freelance online journalist Abdisalan Ahmed Awad.
On Monday, The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called for the release of Abdisalan, who remains in custody.
“Authorities in the breakaway region of Somaliland should unconditionally release freelance online journalist Abdisalan Ahmed Awad and hold the intelligence officers who harassed and assaulted him and two other journalists responsible,” CPJ said.
Somaliland is a breakaway republic from Somalia that has not won international recognition since it declared its cessation from Somalia in 1991, following the ousting of the Siyad Barre regime.
In an interview with VOA Somali, during a visit in Washington in March, Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi said he has secured pledges of increased U.S. support for his self-declared state.
Even as formal recognition remains off the table for the time being, he urged the international community to recognize his territory’s quest for independence, saying negotiations with Somalia had failed.
Unlike southern Somalia, Somaliland has been enjoying relative peace, has its own military and police money, and has received credit for holding democratic elections, but rights groups often accuse Somaliland authorities of being hostile toward journalists.