Reporters Without Borders condemns the unfairness of the proceedings to which Yusuf Abdi Gabobe, the owner and founder of the newspaper Haatuf, and Ahmed Ali Egeh, the editor of its Somali-language version, are being subjected in Hargeisa, the capital of the breakaway northwestern territory of Somaliland.
Gabobe and Egeh have been held since 10 May, when they were arrested and appeared in court for allegedly libelling two government ministers, while the newspaper has been closed since 7 April.
"We call on the authorities to drop all the charges against Gabobe and Egeh and to end this sham trial, which reflects a poorly concealed desire to intimidate Somaliland's media," said Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Africa desk.
"The proceedings against these two journalists violate Somaliland's own laws, especially the 2004 press law, which decriminalizes media offences and which, according to the Somaliland constitution, takes precedence over Somalia's penal code. This judicial farce is compounded by a conflict of interest, since the two government ministers named in the offending article are so far the only people to have testified."
Kahn-Sriber added: "To cap it all, the courtroom was occupied solely by supporters of the two ministers, who insulted and intimidated the journalists. All these circumstances undermine the Somaliland government's credibility and may help to explain why it finds it so hard to win the international community's confidence."
Immediately after their arrest on 10 May, Gabobe and Egeh were brought before the court for a hearing lasting several hours, during which they were charged with making false accusations, subversive propaganda, publishing false or tendentious information liable to endanger public order, and insulting officials.
During the hearing, the lawyers for the plaintiffs demanded the application of five articles of Somalia's 1960 penal code to the 11 charges rather than Somaliland's 2004 media law (Media Act No. 27), which decriminalized media offences and which is clearly the applicable law.
A request for the conditional release of Gabobe and Egeh was denied during the 10 May hearing, despite the objections of their lawyers.
The policeclosed the Hargeisa-based Haatuf when they raided it on 7 April in response to the offending article about the two ministers. Unfortunately, such an act of censorship is not isolated in Somaliland.
Somalia is ranked 176th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.