- Somaliland has stood out as an example of democracy and human rights in Africa's Horn, but recent attacks on the free press, banning of public meetings and the alleged use of torture have cast doubts over this image. Somaliland opposition leader Faisal Ali Waraabe told afrol News his party wants to defend democracy and human rights but defended government attacks on the press to "preserve unity".
The most horrifying story regarding Somaliland's diminishing human rights record yet has to make headlines in the country. A 17-year-old Somali girl, according to local human rights groups, was detained one month ago as she approached the Vice-President's house in eastern Somaliland. Put to jail in the region, she was allegedly "raped and tortured for 25 days," according to reports from Somaliland's Awdalnews Network.
Awdalnews editor Bashir Goth - a devoted defender of Somaliland - told afrol News this was "a shocking story" that "Somaliland media decided to keep under wraps." The editor nevertheless had opted to publish it yesterday.
Mr Goth and other Somalilander independent editors are under great pressure not to publish headlines that could hamper national unity and the image of the non-recognised country in these difficult times. After all, a new united Somalia may soon stand up against Somaliland and claim sovereignty over the former British colony that unilaterally dissolved the union with former Italian Somalia in 1991.
Chief editor Hassan Said Yusuf of Somaliland's leading independent newspaper, 'Jamhuuriya', in September was detained for the 15th time by Hargeisa police over an article by his Kenya correspondent, saying the Somaliland government's position regarding the Somali Peace Conference was "soft". The government held 'Jamhuuriya' was "inciting people against the government" and threatening national unity. Mr Yusuf was acquitted on 3 October.
Editor Yusuf alleged the police action against him had been "extremely heavy-handed and violent." Members of the police force that brought him to court had "stopped him in the middle of the dry-bed river and threatened him saying, 'We can cut your throat and leave you here'," he said.
One of Somaliland's main opposition parties, Kulmiye, is strongly protesting what it sees as anti-democratic tendencies in Somaliland. According to a statement issues by Kulmiye last month, "it has become the usual trend to take steps towards dictatorship and the destruction of democracy, instead of selling our achievements to the international community." The party refers to Somaliland's efforts to sell its democratic gains to achieve recognition of its independence.
Somaliland's other main opposition party, the Justice and Welfare Party (JWP), however does not share these concerns over the situation of democracy and human rights in the country. JWP leader Waraabe told afrol News this week that he was still proud of representing Somaliland as "one of the most democratic countries with the freest press in Africa." Mr Waraabe however warned that "we need to be a patriotic people," and that the press needed to remember this.
According to the opposition leader, Somaliland's media "are not sufficiently trained," thus not being able to "differentiate between criticism against the government and causing damage to the country." Asked what he considered as "harmful to national interests," Mr Waraabe mentioned press reporting over corruption scandals "on an exaggerated level," which he alleged were meant to cause harm on a politician's image.
- We need not to compromise our national interest because of press freedom, Mr Waraabe told afrol News, adding: "We need a positive, not a negative freedom." The JWP leader advocated for a national press code to regulate what the media could write and what they could not write, taking national interests in consideration. He however emphasised that his party was "against the arrests of journalists or any ban of discussions."
Asked on the Kulmiye party's claim that democracy has weakened under current President Dahir Riyale Kahin's regime, Mr Waraabe said the President was upholding very democratic standards. After the despotic regime of Somali military dictator Siad Barre, before 1991, Somalilanders would "not accept limitations to their freedom," the JWP leader said.
- We cannot say President Riyale is stricter than [Somaliland's deceased founding President Muhammad Ibrahim] Egal, Mr Waraabe said, emphasising that he was impressed by the attack from the press President Riyale had sustained without reacting. "I would become even stricter if I was elected President and I would not tolerate what Riyale tolerates," Mr Waraabe told afrol News.
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