ARTICLE 19 condemns the harsh and excessive sentences handed to two Somaliland journalists and the revocation of the license of a Media Network by the Hargeisa regional Court on June, 25 2014. Yusuf Abdi Gabobe, chairman of the Haatuf Media Network and his Chief Editor Ahmed Ali Igeh were each jailed for 3 years and fined 50 Million Somaliland Shillings (8,000 USD) after the regional court found them guilty of defamation and spreading false information. The court also revoked the license of the Haatuf media network which publishes Haatuf and Somaliland Times.
“It is unfortunate that Criminal defamation continues to be incessantly used in Somaliland to prosecute independent journalists and media owners. We call upon the regional government to urgently take steps to decriminalize defamation since it prevents serious analytical reporting and debate on matters of public interest.” said Henry Maina, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa Director.
Abdi Gabobe and Ali Igeh were charged after running stories which accused Somaliland’s Minister for Minerals, Energy and Water Resources, Hussein Abdi Duale and Somaliland’s Minister of Interior, Ali Mohamed Waran Ade of corruption and embezzlement. The prosecution charged the journalists with defamation and spreading false information with a view to hurt the Ministers’ reputation and that of the Somaliland presidency. The charges came after police on 7 April 2014, armed with a court warrant, indefinitely shut down the headquarters of Haatuf media network.
“Public figures like Cabinet Ministers are legitimately subjected to higher levels of criticism and scrutiny than ordinary citizens and they should, given their position, role and influence, tolerate it as they play a role in public life,” added Maina.
The imprisonment of the two journalists comes at a time when the media in Somaliland has come under increased attacks. In 2013 at least 4 media outlets were closed by the government for publishing articles perceived to be anti-government and the trend has continued in 2014. On 4 February 2014, Somaliland Authorities indefinitely suspended operations of the privately owned Universal Television, after accusing it of insulting the Region’s President Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud Silanyo in a comedy programme it aired. On 13 December 2013, police officers closed Hubaal newspaper accusing it of promoting insecurity in the country. The newspaper remains shut to date. In January 2013, the Somaliland government closed the headquarters of Horn Cable TV and detained 22 reporters who were demonstrating against the closure of the TV. They were released after the Somaliland Journalists Association (SOLJA) intervened.
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