New York, May 23, 2022 — In response to news reports and statements from local rights groups that the Hargeisa Regional Court in the breakaway region of Somaliland sentenced journalists Mohamed Abdi Sheikh, known as Ilig, and Abdijabar Mohamed Hussein to 16 months imprisonment for subversion and false news on Monday, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued the following statemet condemning the verdict:
“Mohamed Abdi Sheikh and Abdijabar Mohamed Hussein should never have been arrested for simply covering a breaking news story in real time, and we are deeply disappointed by the convictions and harsh sentences handed down to them,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator. “Appealing these spurious convictions through Somaliland’s flawed justice system would be unjust, lengthy, and uncertain. Time is of the essence for these two innocent journalists, one of whom is seriously ill. Authorities must not further undermine Somaliland’s already precarious press freedom environment and should ensure the release of the journalists immediately, without condition.”
Mohamed, a reporter and chairperson of MM Somali TV, Abdirahman Ali Khalif, a reporter for Gobonimo TV, and Abdijabar, a reporter for Horn Cable TV, were among 18 journalists arrested on April 13 in connection to their coverage of a fight between inmates and guards at the Hargeisa Central Prison in the region’s capital, as CPJ documented at the time. The majority of the journalists were eventually released, according to a statement by the Mogadishu-based press rights organization, the Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS). Mohamed is seriously ill and his condition worsened while in jail, according to Yasmin Omar Mohamoud, chair of the local advocacy group Human Rights Centre Somaliland, CPJ was not able to obtain details of his medical condition.
Mohamed, Abdijabar, and Abdirahman were charged under Articles 215 and 328 of the penal code relating to “subversive or anti-national propaganda” or publishing false news, according to Human Rights Centre Somaliland and a joint statement by SJS and the Somali Media Association (SOMA). The pair were sentenced in a “hasty” hearing that took place “without the knowledge of the defense lawyers and family members of the defendants,” according to the joint SJS and SOMA statement. The court acquitted Abdirahman.
Editor’s note: This text was updated in the first paragraph to clarify Mohamed Abdi Sheikh’s name.