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Somaliland authorities arrest two journalists

Yusuf Abdi Gabobe and Ahmed Ali have been charged with libel and jailed since Saturday. (Somaliland Journalists Association)

Nairobi, May 12, 2014--A regional court in the semi-autonomous republic of Somaliland remanded two journalists into custody on Saturday after charging them with libel, false publication, and anti-state propaganda, according to news reports and the local Somaliland Journalists' Association. Yusuf Abdi Gabobe, chairman of the Haatuf Media Network, and Ahmed Ali, chief editor of the network, were jailed after the hearing, the reports said. 

The judge denied the journalists bail, Hassan Ali, the journalists' defense lawyer, told CPJ. The lawyer also said the court did not provide the defense team with adequate time to present its case. The hearings will resume later this month, according to local journalists.

News reports and local journalists said the charges against the journalists stemmed from a complaint filed by Hussein Abdi Duale, Somaliland's energy minister, after the independent Haatuf newspaper, which publishes six days per week, and the English weekly Somaliland Times published a series of articles alleging corruption and mishandling of finances within the ministry, according to local reports. Both papers are owned by the Haatuf Media Network. The energy minister denied the allegations in court on Saturday.

On April 7, police raided the offices of the Haatuf Media Network citing a court order and indefinitely suspended Haatuf and the Somaliland Times, according to news reports and local journalists. Court authorities did not provide a process to appeal the suspension, the same sources said. Local journalists and news reports suggested at the time the closure was linked to the reports alleging corruption.

The news websites of both publications were blocked by telecommunication companies following an April 16 court order, according to news reports and local journalists.

Mohamed Osman, an official in the information ministry, told CPJ that authorities had asked the Haatuf Media Network to provide evidence supporting the allegations against the energy ministry. He said this was never provided. With Yusuf and Ahmed in jail, CPJ has been unable to reach anyone at Haatuf for the group's response.

"Somaliland authorities have already raided Haatuf Media Network's newsrooms, suspended its publications, and blocked its websites, but apparently they saw fit to take further steps to silence the staff and warn other journalists not to cross any red lines," said CPJ East Africa Representative Tom Rhodes. "We urge authorities to release Yusuf Abdi Gabobe and Ahmed Ali immediately and stop targeting the independent press."

On May 3, World Press Freedom Day, the local human rights advocacy group the Human Rights Center delivered a petition to Somaliland President Ahmed Mohamoud Silyano, calling on him to lift the suspension of Haatuf and the Somaliland Times and another indefinitely suspended publication, Hubaal, according to the center's chairman, Guleid Ahmed.  The president has not yet responded to the petition.

Somaliland authorities have launched a crackdown on the press in recent months. In February, authorities banned indefinitely the private U.K.-based broadcaster Universal TV from airing in Somaliland after it broadcast a comedy program that ridiculed the president, according to local journalists and reports. On December 13, police raided and closed indefinitely the daily Hubaal citing a court order that claimed the publication promoted insecurity in the nation. The court did not allow for an appeal process, according to local journalists. Both outlets are still shut down.

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