Nairobi, April 22, 2016 - Authorities in Somaliland should immediately drop all legal charges against journalists for their work and ensure that they can do their jobs without fear of reprisal, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. At least three journalists in the semi-autonomous region are expected to stand trial on Saturday, while a reporter has been jailed for a week without charge
Muuse Jaambiir, chairman of XogOgaal newspaper, is scheduled to appear at the Hargeisa Regional Court on April 23 to face charges of "publishing false news, defaming the president, and shaming the first lady," Jaambiir and Guleid Ahmed Jama, the head of Somaliland's Human Rights Center, a lobby group, told CPJ.
Jaambiir told CPJ that according to the document police had given him detailing the charges against him, prosecutors were charging him in relation to articles he wrote about the privatization of a state-owned petroleum facility.
Abdirashid Nur, chairman of defunct Hubsad newspaper, and Said Khadar Abdilahi, the former editor of the newspaper, are also due to appear at the Hargeisa Regional Court on April 23 to face charges of running an unlicensed newspaper, Guleid said.
All three are free, pending the conclusion of their trials, according to the Human Rights Center. Jama said the journalists could face "years" in prison if convicted, saying that Somaliland's laws are unclear about potential penalties.
Somaliland's attorney general has ordered the closure of XogOgaal and Hubsad but XogOgaal continues to publish while it challenges the order. The independent, daily newspapers have sometimes been critical of Somaliland's government.
Separately, police on April 13 detained Mohamed Omar Jaray, a reporter for the news website Borama News, after a video he recorded asking people to sing Somaliland's national anthem became popular on social media, according to news accounts. Many of the people who appeared in the video sang Somalia's national anthem, according to Mogadishu's Dalsan Radio, which reported that police also arrested at least some of the people who appeared in the video. Omar remains in custody, though he has not been charged with a crime, according to the Human Rights Center.
"Authorities in Somaliland have already closed Hubsad newspaper. Now they also want to put those responsible for it in jail," said CPJ Africa Research Associate Kerry Paterson. "Somaliland should strive for a diverse and open media environment, beginning with dropping all legal charges against journalists for their work, and releasing Mohamed Omar Jaray immediately."
CPJ has documented the cases of several journalists arrested for their work in Somaliland. Although CPJ found on a mission to the region in early 2015 that the situation for journalists had improved, human rights campaigners say it has deteriorated in recent months.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This text has been corrected throughout to reflect that XogOgaal newspaper continues to publish while it appeals the order to cease publishing.