Human Rights groups in Somaliland have protested the imprisonment of two journalists by the Marodi-jeex Regional Court on what they termed as trumped up charges.
Journalists Mohamed Ilig and Abdijibar Mohamed were sentenced to 16 months jail term each and released while Abdirahman Ali Khalif.
The three were arrested in April while reporting live on central Hargeisa jail riots.
Leading the protests was the Committee to Protect Journalists who demanded for an unconditional release of the journalists saying the charges are flawed and an affront to press freedom.
“Mohamed Abdi Ilig and Abdijabar Mohamed Hussein should never have been arrested for simply covering a breaking news story in real time, and we are deeply disappointed by the convictions and harsh sentences handed down to them,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator.
The CPJ coordinator further said: “Appealing these spurious convictions through Somaliland’s flawed justice system would be unjust, lengthy, and uncertain. Time is of the essence for these two innocent journalists, one of whom is seriously ill. Authorities must not further undermine Somaliland’s already precarious press freedom environment and should ensure the release of the journalists immediately, without condition.”
Mohamed, a reporter and chairperson of MM Somali TV, Abdirahman Ali Khalif, a reporter for Gobonimo TV, and Abdijabar, a reporter for Horn Cable TV, were among 18 journalists arrested on April 13 in connection to their coverage of a fight between inmates and guards at the Hargeisa Central Prison in the region’s capital, as CPJ documented at the time.
The majority of the journalists were eventually released, according to a statement statement by the Mogadishu-based press rights organization, the Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS).
Mohamed, Abdijabar, and Abdirahman were charged under Articles 215 and 328 of the penal code relating to “subversive or anti-national propaganda” or publishing false news, according to Human Rights Centre Somaliland and a joint statement by SJS and the Somali Media Association (SOMA).
The pair were sentenced in a “hasty” hearing that took place “without the knowledge of the defense lawyers and family members of the defendants,” according to the joint SJS and SOMA statement.
In another protest letter, the chairperson of the Human Rights Centre Yasmin Omar Haaji Mohamoud said said they were deeply concerned terming the sentencing as a grave disorder of the justice system in Somaliland.
“When looking at the charge sheet and the actions taken by the journalist, neither the actions nor the charges seem to match to the final judgement. We are requesting that the judge in this trial apply common sense, ethics, and morality in giving the final judgment,” the Human Rights Centre said.
“According to the charge sheet, the actions taken by the journalists do not reflect the crime they are allegedly accused of. They could not be in possession of spreading false news that circulated quickly as they were arrested on the spot, therefore this judgement far exceeds the scope of their actions while at the prison where the reporting took place. We are asking for the law to be applied with justice and common sense in mind here,” added the HRC.
Mohamoud said in the letter that the judgement damages the work Somaliland has done to create peaceful institutions where democracy prevails by creating a weak functioning government that punishes dissenting voices or news that shines a light on the power of abuse by the president’s office, including the police force and investigation department.
“Somaliland government must allow free press to work without interference, and journalists to report on the news without fear of intimidation, arrest, and self-censorship.”
“Somaliland government and those involved in taking these decisions must respect and adhere to the commands enshrined in the constitution and follow international human rights standards, as agreed upon by Somaliland treaties.”
The HRC said the condition put on the sentencing, according to most international human rights standards, are considered cruel and unusual punishment.
“Therefore, we are asking the judge in this case, and the President Muse Bihi to respect free media and journalism in Somaliland, release them without condition immediately.”
“As stated by article 32(3), this interference by the court and the president subjugates the journalist and free media in Somaliland, thereby making free media under the rule and whim of our elected officials. All counterproductive to the work that Somaliland has undergone to make sure democracy exists and flourishes in the country.”