Nairobi — A Somaliland regional court yesterday sentenced journalists Mohamed Abdilaahi Dabshid and Ahmed Dirie Liltire, to two years of prison on charges of conducting propaganda against the state, bringing Somaliland into contempt and "bringing the flag or national emblem of a foreign state" into contempt, according to a statement by the Human Rights Center (HRC), which quoted the lawyer in the case, Abibakar Sheikh Mohamoud.
Police in the city of Borama arrested Mohamed and Ahmed on December 26, 2017, following the publication of a story they allegedly wrote for the privately owned news website Xeegonews, which reported that Ethiopian rebel militias were training in the Awdal region of Somaliland, Yahye Ahmed, executive director of the Somaliland Journalists Association (SOLJA) and Guleid Ahmed Jama, chairperson of the Human Rights Center, a non-governmental organization based in Hargeisa, told CPJ. Guleid told CPJ that the story was quoted in the charge sheet against the two journalists but he could not find the story on the site and he had not seen it.
CPJ could not locate the story on Xeegonews and the site's owners did not respond to a January 4 email asking about Mohamed and Ahmed's case.
"These heavy prison sentences are yet further evidence of the Somaliland government's slow strangulation of media freedom," said CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney in New York. "We demand the release of Mohamed Abdilaahi Dabshid and Ahmed Dirie Liltire pending appeal."
According to the HRC statement, the lawyer said the journalists will appeal the ruling. CPJ was unable to determine if an appeal has been scheduled.
Somaliland's information minister, Abdurrahman Abdullahi Farah, did not pick up repeated phone calls nor respond to text messages. The CPJ's phone calls to Somaliland's chief justice, Adam Haji Ali, were not answered.
Salma Sheikh, who said that she is a management consultant and planning head for the information ministry, told CPJ that the office would look into the case in five days.
In addition to their work for Xeegonews, Mohamed works for the privately owned Kalsan TV, and Ahmed works as a correspondent for the Puntland-based Somali Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), a non-governmental media group, Yahye Ahmed and Yahye Ismail Sheikh, the East Africa head of Kalsan TV, told CPJ.
Conditions for journalists in semi-autonomous Somaliland have steadily deteriorated in recent months with authorities using allegations of false news to muzzle the press. One Somali journalist, Mohamed Adan Dirir, is serving a sentence of 18 months on charges of false news.