Two local telecommunication and internet companies based in the breakaway northern Somalia republic of Somaliland have blocked access to two popular news websites this week, prompting criticism by a local media watchdog which warned that the new restrictions would further restrict freedom of expression.
The development comes after the local telecommunication firm, Telesom blocked access to Aftahan.com after the news site published a poetic work by a local artist who criticized the company’s mobile banking system which he said sparked an inflation and a general increase in commodity prices and fall in the purchasing value of money in Somaliland.
The crackdown of online media has been a major concern for journalists based in Somaliland who have also seen waves of arrests and intimidation by local authorities in recent years.
Meanwhile, another local internet company, Somcable also blocked access to another popular news website Hadhwanaagnews.com after the site had run a piece critical to the firm, according to Jamal Ibrahim, the secretary general of Hargeisa Media House, a local media watchdog who spoke to Alleastafrica by phone from Hargeisa, Somaliland’s capital.
Mr. Ibrahim said the new restrictions of online media by private companies showed ‘the increasing pressure’ on local media outlets and called on the two companies Telesom and Somcable to lift the ban.
He expressed surprise at how the two private firms arbitrarily blocked online media without seeking approval from the government, a move which he said denied journalists opportunities to challenge the decisions in courts.
Officials at both companies were not available for comments.
For years, there has been a tense relationship between the government and independent media. Government officials often accuse journalists of supporting and promoting anti-government sentiment, leading to the arrests of dozens of journalists in recent years.
“It is very concerning when internet providers side with the government in suppressing the critical voices,” says Guleid Ahmed Jama, the chairperson of Human Rights Centre.
“The actions of Somcable and Somtel are unacceptable and are threat to the freedom of expression. We condemn these attempts aimed to control the independent media coverage. The internet providers have no right to take the law in their hand,” he adds.
Rights groups and media watchdogs have repeatedly urged Somaliland to ensure that independent media outlets are not harassed, and to allow journalists to practice their profession without fear of retaliation.