A regional court in the semi-autonomous region of Somaliland sentenced journalist Mohamed Adan Dirir, in a one-day trial on October 8, 2017, to 18 months in jail on charges of criminal defamation and publishing false news, and fined him one million Somaliland shillings, the journalist's lawyer, Mubarik Abdi Ismail, and Abdikarim Saed Salah, owner of Horseed News, a news website for which Mohamed works, told CPJ.
The charges are linked to articles Mohamed allegedly wrote on sites including Gabiley Media, in which he accused a group of private schools in Hargeisa of misconduct and corruption, Guleid Ahmed Jama, chairman of the non-governmental organization Human Rights Center in Somaliland, told CPJ after the journalist's arrest.
Links to the articles were removed as of late 2017, according to Guleid and Mahad Ibrahim Mohamed, managing director of Noradin Schools. Abdikarim, owner of Horseed News, said that his site did not publish any of the articles.
Authorities detained Mohamed for more than two weeks without charge, in contradiction of Somaliland law which requires authorities to make their cases in court within 48 hours of an arrest. Mohamed's trial had been scheduled for October 5, 2017, but the court postponed it because the judge had to attend a wedding, Guleid told CPJ.
Mubarik told CPJ that the courts did not inform him or the journalist's family of the new court date and they learned of the conviction only after Mohamed, who is an editor for Horseed News and owner of the news website Saylactoday, was sentenced.
The presiding judge in the case, Ahmed Dalmar Ismail, told CPJ that he informed Mohamed and the journalist's lawyer of the new court date. Ahmed, who is president of the Hargeisa Regional Court, said that he permitted Mohamed to represent himself as allowed under Somaliland law.
In October, Mohamed was moved from the central prison in Hargeisa to Mandera, a prison outside the capital which has previously housed political prisoners, according to a report by the privately owned AllEastAfrica news site and Mubarik.
Mubarik said that the journalist plans to appeal.
Mohamed has previously attracted the ire of authorities for his reporting. In May 2017, Somaliland authorities arrested the journalist and held him for a month after he asked the Somaliland health minister a question, according to Guleid and news reports.
Authorities in the semi-autonomous state blocked Mohamed’s site, Saylactoday, for “disseminating false news” and “propaganda against officials,” according to a translated court order seen by CPJ. The website remained blocked in Somaliland in late 2017.
The information minister, Osman Abdullahi Sahardid, and Somaliland’s chief justice, Adam Haji Ali, did not respond to CPJ’s calls in late 2017.