The Absence of Freedom in Expression

The Absence of Freedom in Expression

By Sara Adzajlic

Freedom of Expression, Press and Media is disclosed under Part 3 of the Somaliland Constitution, specifically highlighted in Article 32. Yet, despite it initially looking like a democratic constitution that enshrines and secures the right of individuals, the reality for citizens working in the sector for radio stations, newspapers and television is far from the rights proclaimed in the Somaliland Constitution.

In 2006, the government issued a ministerial decree that banned all privately owned radio stations in Somaliland, apart from Hargeisa Radio which was owned by the authorities. This ministerial decree goes against the third provision under Article 32 which states that the press and all other media hold “fundamental freedoms of expressions and are independent” with any acts against this being “prohibited”. Therefore, the ministerial decree is eliminating any power that individuals carry regarding owning a radio station that is independent of the authorities, as well as disregarding the rights stated under Article 32 in the nation’s constitution.

What is more damaging to the legitimacy of the Somaliland Constitution is that it was not made clear under what law the ministerial decree was issued so therefore many people consider it unlawful. However, the lack of activity in the court of law towards the allegations of the government issuing unlawful ministerial decrees has allowed them to continue issuing many more that contribute to the restrictions of the media and in general, the freedom of expression. This was coincidently seen in the Press Law which governs the press in Somaliland, which had plenty of critics as it was based on the Ethiopian Law, which was also hated by individuals, as the press organizations were under state control, therefore it was evident that the Press Law in Somaliland would have the same tone set in the nation as it did in Ethiopia.

Despite the provisions set under Article 32 that limit the government's power in interfering with the rights of the individuals, the opposite is seen in the nation as the restriction of privately owned radio stations is widely recognized. This is highlighted in the banning of Horyaal Radio from gaining registration and license in Somaliland to express their opinions or voice their concerns. Once when trying to gain a license, the radio station was sent to the wrong sector of government in registering, causing a delay in gaining a license and eventually not gaining any at all. Instead, the radio station has had to set its base in Belgium to remain open and continue broadcasting, whilst enduring the denial of rights under Article 32 of the Somaliland Constitution. The director of the radio station, Mohamed Osman Mire, has been a victim of the state's media restriction since 2004, when Horyaal Radio came into effect. A reason for this may be due to Mr Mire's refusal to sell his radio station to the authorities when they approached him, leading to his house being searched 3 times and himself being arrested 6 times. This demonstrates the seriousness of the situation and how far the government is willing to go to control the media and ensure that the agenda matches its own.

Many other facts have since arisen that are purposely designed to divert individuals from choosing a career in the media, which ultimately leads to a low level of quality in journalism and broadcasting. The minimum living standard in Hargeisa is equivalent to $150 per month, yet for a journalist it is around $30 which is a considerable amount lower, making it merely impossible for an individual to live on for a whole month. This has been argued to be a deliberate attempt by the government to push the image of journalism being an uninspiring career that carries limited benefits, therefore the fewer people interested in the media, the less importance it carries in society.

Constantly, the media is accused by the government of using insulting, offensive, and disrespectful language whilst projecting an opposing view to the national image. It is embedded into the society that the government wants to control the media that there should be no private radio station in Somaliland. To ensure that this message is heard, ministers do not speak to privately owned media companies. The police also play a part in this disregard of rights under Article 32 as they confiscate any photos or documents that highlight a government minister, with many destroying the information, so that the press is very limited in power or influence in Somaliland.

Freedom of Expression cannot be exercised nor enjoyed on the basis that the Somaliland authority has placed such heavy sanctions (arrests) and potentially unlawful ministerial decrees that prevent every sector of the media, but most specifically journalists, from carrying out the duties set by their occupations. Moreover, the restrictions are a contradiction to Article 32 in the Constitution, where provision three states that “all acts to subjugate them are prohibited”. This means that the acts set by the government go directly against freedom of expression and are deliberately passed down to coerce anyone in the media sector to be repressed and controlled into following state laws.

The explanation set by the state on the reason behind placing restrictions on the media and in general on the freedom of expression is due to the characteristics of the Somaliland society. They claim that the Somaliland society is "highly argumentative" and that giving them a platform to express their views, such as through private or independent radio stations, this would allow them to overthrow the government immediately. This highlights that the restrictions that the authority’s issue is out of fear but most importantly for their protection, yet this is at the cost of individuals rights and could be considered a human rights violation.

Hence, the Somaliland Constitution and the legislation enacted by the government heavily contradict each other, which has resulted in rights legally written and promised to individuals, yet not physically been given to them. This is seen by the numerous incidents of journalists being arrested and detained or their houses being searched by the authorities and their agents because they have not conformed to the ministerial decrees that repress their freedom of expression. The governments' lack of willingness to provide more freedom to the rights set in the constitution is a violation of human rights, as the restrictions are designed to deter anyone who possesses an alternative agenda from the states from being able to voice their views.