Nairobi, July 3, 2013–A court in the capital of the semi-autonomous republic of Somaliland today convicted the manager and editor of the independent daily Hubaal of defamation and sentenced them to prison.
Hubaal‘s editor, Hussein Hassan Abdullahi, received two years, while the paper’s manager, Mohamed Ahmed Jama, was sentenced to one year in jail on charges of defamation and false publication of news capable of disturbing public order, local journalists told CPJ. The court issued a fine of 2,000,000 Somaliland shillings (US$300) to Hussein and 1,000,000 shillings (US$150) to Mohamed, according to news reports.
Defense lawyer Adburahaman Mohamoud said the journalists will appeal. He told CPJ that the conviction contravenes the Somaliland media law and constitution, which require civil as opposed to criminal procedures for alleged press offenses.
Judge Osman Fanah of the Regional Court in Hargeisa also ordered that the daily remain suspended for the duration of the journalists’ sentence, local journalists told CPJ. The Attorney General had ordered publication of the paper suspended on June 11.
The indictment, filed by Attorney General Farhan Mire, charged the pair in connection with a January article claiming that Ethiopian diplomatic staff used their positions for smuggling illicit goods, as well as a June article alleging that Somaliland’s president was in poor health and relinquished duties to the state minister for the presidency. The charges came amid the paper’s extensive coverage of a dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia over the latter’s construction of a huge dam across the Nile River. Local journalists said they suspect Somaliland authorities are sensitive to critical media coverage of Ethiopia, given the republic’s close economic ties to that country.
“The conviction of the Hubaal journalists is not only an effort to silence the newspaper, but a message to the entire Somaliland press that authorities will abuse the courts to punish their critics,” said Tom Rhodes, the Committee to Protect Journalists’ East Africa consultant. “Authorities should act quickly to overturn this unjust verdict and release Mohamed Ahmed and Hussein Hassan.”
The two Hubaal journalists were to be transferred to Hargeisa’s Central Prison around 10 p.m. local time this evening, defense lawyer Adburahaman said.
In April, two assailants raided the Hubaal offices and shot at Mohamed, injuring his arm and hand, according to news reports. Despite authorities identifying one of the assailants as a policeman, no one has been charged to date, local journalists said.
Journalists are often harassed, arbitrarily detained, or attacked in Somaliland, according to CPJ research.