Ten journalists have been arrested and detained in Hargeisa, Somaliland, the self-declared independent region of Somalia, a press freedom lobby said on Thursday.
The reporters working for local independent media stations were covering an attempted prison break in Hargeisa, which was deemed as one of the most daring attempted escapes in the region.
A statement issued by the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) said the group was arrested but no charge preferred against them.
“The ten journalists were arrested as they covered a standoff between inmates and guards at the Hargeisa Central Prison where a riot broke out after prisoners started hurling stones at the guards,” NUSOJ said in a statement.
“Reinforcements were called in and journalists from different media responded to the ensuing commotion that saw the guards open fire, to quell a protest by the inmates who were armed with stones,” union Secretary-General Omar Faruk Osman added.
The incident on Wednesday saw police also raid the independent Horn Cable TV headquarters in Hargeisa as part of efforts to prevent broadcasts on the events at the prison.
The prison is a high security facility in Hargeisa city, where more than 150 criminal and terror convicts are held.
A group of the detained men reportedly attempted to escape, leading to a fierce battle, police indicated. In the melee, media stations covering the incident were reprimanded.
Some of the reporters, including VOA Somali Service’s Reporter Sagal Mustafe Hassan, were released, but most of the affected journalists remained in detention by Thursday.
NUSOJ published a list of journalists it said were still in detention and demanded their urgent release.
They included local MM TV journalist Mohamed Ilig and Hassan Gallayr, a BBC Somali service reporter. Others included Niciima Abdi (Caroodeg Media), Ahmed Mahmud (Saab TV), Aydaruus Mahamed (Goobjoog online news site), Ahmed Shimali of HCTV, Mahamed Faan of MM TV and Ahmed Samraawi of Bulsho TV.
On Thursday, the Commander of Somaliland Prison Corps General Ahmed Awale Yusuf claimed that the affected journalists had shared false news.
“There are people who misinformed the public about the small incident that happened at the prison,” Gen Yusuf told the media.
“We hold them accountable, and we will not allow such people to go unpunished.”
Somalia is one of the most dangerous places for journalists, ranking 161 globally in the World Press Freedom Index by the Reporters without Borders (RSF).
Journalists in Somalia, including Somaliland, often encounter a harsh working environment.
Terror groups such as Al-Shabaab as well as government operatives routinely harass journalists with death threats, according to a 2021 NUSOJ report.
And although Somaliland—which is still unrecognised globally as independent of Somalia—operates its own government structure, including the police and army, its officials have also been accused of shutting down critical TV channels.
Both NUSOJ and RSF said the reporters must be freed unconditionally
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