Somaliland editor sentenced to 3 years in prison

New York, January 24, 2011The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns a three-year prison sentence handed to a newspaper editor in the semi-autonomous republic of Somaliland in connection with a story alleging public corruption. 

Judge Ali Sudi Diriye, presiding in a regional court in Hargeisa, found Mohamud Abdi Jama, editor of the private daily Waheen, guilty on charges of defamation and “spreading false news,” local journalists told CPJ. The judge, who issued the ruling on Saturday, also fined Jama six million shillings (US$900).

Diriye denied Jama bail and sent him immediately to Hargeisa Central Prison, defense lawyer Mohamud Osman told CPJ. Osman said he plans to appeal the verdict to the Somaliland’s Supreme Court.

The charges stem from a 2010 story accusing a state electricity company manager of hiring more than 50 employees from his own clan, Somaliland Journalist Association Chairman Mustafa Abdi Isse told CPJ. Waheen, part of the Waheen Media Group, is known for its critical coverage of the government, local journalists told CPJ.

Journalists with four other newspapers–Saxafi, Hargeisa Star, Ogaal, and Yool–face pending criminal defamation charges brought by the state prosecutor, the National Union of Somali Journalists reported. Local journalists told CPJ they fear the administration of President Mohamed Silyano has reneged on its 2010 election campaign promises to allow independent news media to work without reprisal.

“Throwing journalists into prison runs counter to the administration’s promises to support a free press and embrace accountability and transparency,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “CPJ urges the Supreme Court to reverse the conviction of Mohamud Abdi Jama on appeal.”