The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) condemns the draconian sentences handed to two journalists by the Somaliland Court in Hargeisa.
Hassan Hussein Abdullahi, also known as Keefkeef, received a two-year jail term and a fine of two million Somaliland shillings, while journalist Mohamed Ahmed Jama, also known as Aloley, received a one-year jail term and was fined one million Somaliland shillings.
Hassan Hussein Abdullahi and Mohamed Ahmed Jama - who are editor-in-chief and director of Hubaal newspaper respectively - were officially indicted by Hargeisa regional administration's attorney general Farhan Mire Osman on 17 June 2013. The court received the charges on the same day, according to court documents that NUSOJ received. The Hubaal journalists were charged on two counts:
Count 1: The two journalists were collectively charged with the following offences: falsification, publication of false news and defamation in violation of articles 287, 328, 452 and 45-71 of the criminal law and articles 10, 12, 13, 14 of the Somaliland Media Law of 27/2004.
In issue 147 of the Hubaal newspaper, published on 21 January 2013, the journalists allegedly published an article purporting that Ethiopian diplomatic staff based in Hargeisa are involved in the smuggling of illicit drugs (alcohol and hashish-cannabis sativa) by taking advantage of diplomatic privileges.
Count 2: The journalists were collectively charged with the following offences: propagating false information and defamation against a national leader and his leadership policies in violation of articles 287, 328, 452, 199 45-71 of the criminal law and articles 10, 12, 13, 14 of the Somaliland Media Law of 27/2004. This charge was leveled against the journalists on the basis of a news article published in issue 262 of Hubaal newspaper on 10 June 2013. The article said that Somaliland President Ahmed Mahmud Silanyo is in poor health and has relinquished duties to the state minister for presidency.
The presiding judge of Hargeisa Regional Court, Osman Ibrahim Dahir, announced on 3 July 2013 that the top journalists of Hubaal newspaper were found guilty of all charges. The judge added that Hassan and Mohamed were guilty of scandalizing a diplomatic mission and the president of Somaliland. But the lawyers of the defendants strongly refuted the verdict as a "miscarriage of justice" and vowed to make an appeal.
"The ruling against Hassan Hussein Abdullahi and Mohamed Ahmed Jama is not only a violation of their own rights and media freedom. This is an act designed to intimidate the media in Somaliland and discourage them from being critical," said Omar Faruk Osman, NUSOJ Secretary General, adding that it is one of the heaviest jail terms and fines ever handed down in the country.
On 11 June 2013, a court order issued by Hargeisa Regional Court ordered the Hubaal Media Group to close down its operations with immediate effect, without giving reasons for the action thus affecting both the daily Somali language (Hubal) and weekly English language (independent) newspapers, which are both published by Hubaal Media Group.
Judge Osman Ibrahim Dahir added that Hubaal newspaper should remain closed until the two journalists finish their jail terms and pay fines.