The Authorities in the breakaway region of Somaliland should unconditionally release journalist Bushaaro Ali Mohamed and stop detaining members of the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists, CPJ, said on Tuesday.
On the evening of May 15, Somaliland police arrested Bushaaro shortly after she entered the border town of Wajale from Ethiopia, according to media reports, multiple statements by rights groups, and Mubarik Mohamoud Abdi, the journalist’s lawyer, who spoke to CPJ. That night, authorities transferred her to police custody in the Somaliland capital of Hargeisa.
Police officers kicked and slapped Bushaaro during her arrest, leaving her with injuries to her face and leg, according to those sources and other media reports.
On the morning of May 17, Bushaaro appeared at the Hargeisa regional court without legal representation, where authorities accused her of several offenses including disseminating propaganda and undermining Somaliland’s national security and unity, but did not formally charge her with a crime. The court ordered her to be held until her next court date on May 25.
Bushaaro, who also goes by Bushaaro Baanday, reports on Somaliland politics and posts critical commentary on her Facebook page, where she has about 790,000 followers.
“Somaliland journalist Bushaaro Ali Mohamed should be released unconditionally and without delay, and she should be allowed to report on matters of public interest without interference,” said CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative, Muthoki Mumo. “Having a dissenting or critical opinion should never land any journalist in prison. Authorities should encourage rather than suppress diverse views in the public sphere.”
On May 21, officers with the police Criminal Investigation Department in Hargeisa interrogated Bushaaro in the presence of Mubarik.
During that interrogation, Bushaaro demanded that the CID officers allow her to access medical treatment for injuries suffered during her arrest as well as for a fever and headache, according to media reports and Mubarik. She also complained about the conditions in which she was detained, including “darkness inside solitary confinement, a lack of exercise, restriction to family visits and the lack of sufficient access to her lawyers,” Mubarik tweeted.
Mubarik said that the CID officers allowed Bushaaro to see a doctor on Monday who prescribed her painkillers, and said they promised to take her to a hospital and to allow visits from her lawyers and family.
CPJ could not immediately determine what reporting prompted Bushaaro’s arrest. Clips posted to her Facebook page, which CPJ reviewed, include interviews with people about floods in one of Somaliland’s cities and alleged medical negligence. She has also been critical of Somaliland authorities and called for people to demand more accountability from their government.
Bushaaro’s Facebook page has continued updating since her detention, with some posts signed by “admin.” CPJ messaged the page for comment but did not receive any reply.
Bushaaro was born in Somaliland but lives in the United Kingdom, where she has dual citizenship. In response to a request for comment on Bushaaro, a representative of the British Office in Hargeisa told CPJ in an email that U.K. officials “are supporting the family of a British woman detained in Somaliland and in contact with the local authorities.”
CPJ texted Somaliland Information Minister Suleyman Ali Yusuf, Police Commissioner General Mohamed Adan Saqadhi, and Attorney General Hasan Aden for comment but did not receive any replies. CPJ also contacted the Somaliland Ministries of Information, Interior, Foreign Affairs, and Justice via email, Twitter, and their websites, but received error messages or no replies.