In Somaliland, jailed journalists prosecuted under archaic criminal law

New York, January 18, 2007–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the ruling by a court in the northern breakaway republic of Somaliland on Wednesday to try three jailed journalists under archaic criminal laws in connection with a story critical of the president.

A regional court in the capital, Hargeysa, ruled that editor Ali Abdi Dini, reporter Muhammad-Rashid Farah, and publisher Yusuf Abdi Gabobe of the Somali-language private daily Haatuf, would be tried under Somaliland’s 1962 penal code and not the 2004 press law, local journalists told CPJ. Defense lawyer Muhammad Saeed told CPJ that the case should be brought under the press law, which he said has exclusive governance over press issues and which does not allow prison penalties. The penal code charges could bring more than three years in prison.

Dini and Gabobe have been jailed without bail since their arrest on January 2, and Farah has gone into hiding, local journalists told CPJ. The journalists were detained in connection with articles that criticized President Dahir Rayale Kahin’s handling of a territorial dispute, and that accused his wife of corruption. Kahin has not issued any public statements in response to the allegations in the articles, local journalists said.

“We condemn this crackdown on journalists reporting on issues of public interest,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on authorities to drop all charges against these journalists and to stop actions that criminalize critical reporting.”

Dini and Farah face three criminal charges including “insulting the good name and honor of the head of state,” “inciting the national forces of Somaliland to rebel against the state” and “encouraging the general public to riot in acts of public disorder against the state,” Saeed told CPJ. Gabobe is charged with “threatening law enforcement officers and obstructing the officers from executing their public duty” for protesting a police raid on the paper’s offices on January 2.

Saeed said the defense has already filed appeals challenging the nature of the charges.

A fourth Haatufjournalist, correspondent Muhammad Omar Sheekh, has been jailed without charge since Sunday by Somaliland’s Criminal Investigation Department in connection with articles critical of Kahin’s administration, a source close to the paper told CPJ.

Large public demonstrations against the U.N.-backed Somali transitional government were staged in Somaliland this week after transitional President Abdullahi Yusuf said he views the breakaway region as part of Somalia. Somaliland declared its independence from Somalia in 1991 and has been relatively stable compared with the rest of the nation. It has had a generally free press and has made strides in democracy with its first multiparty parliamentary elections in September 2005.

Read CPJ’s January 3 news alert for more information on this case.