Your Excellency, President Muse Bihi Abdi:
Urgent Appeal for Immediate and Unconditional Release of Detained Journalists
We, the undersigned organisations that stand for and defend media freedom and journalists’ rights, make this urgent appeal to you to use the constitutional powers bestowed upon you by the Somaliland constitution, to release Mohamed Abdi Mohamed of MM Somali TV and Abdijabar Mohamed Hussein of HornCable TV.
The two journalists, along with Abdirahman Ali Khalif of Gobonnimo TV, were arrested on 13 April 2022 along with 12 other journalists as they covered the riot that was taking place at Hargeisa Central Prison. Unsubstantiated criminal charges were levelled at the journalists, including spreading propaganda to destroy the nation and disseminating false news under Articles 215 (Subversive or Anti-Nation Propaganda) and 328 (Publication or Circulation of False, Exaggerated, or Tendentious News Capable of Disturbing the Public Order) of the Penal Code.
In addition to the abovementioned charges, Mohamed Abdi Mohamed was exclusively accused of violating Article 518 (Unauthorised or Prohibited Business Agencies and Public Trading Concerns) of the Penal Code by operating an unregistered news media organisation, MM Somali TV, without the proper licenses.
Abdijabar Mohamed Hussein is specifically singled out in the charge sheet for posting on his Facebook page a story about the events that took place at Hargeisa Central Prison on 13 April. Prosecution claimed that he said the security forces had ordered local residents living in the neighbourhood of the prison to leave their homes due to the fighting and that the same information was posted and reported live on the Facebook of Horn Cable TV. The Prosecution quoted the police as saying no such orders had been issued.
There are gaps in the charge sheet that demonstrate contradictions and the prosecution appear to acknowledge and then deny the events that transpired at Hargeisa Central Prison on April 13. The gaps show the intention to politically persecute the journalists.
The journalists had three court appearances. The court relied on coached witnesses, although some of the soldiers who were earlier asked to bear witness against the journalists reportedly refused to appear.
Mahad Mohamed Yusuf, the judge originally assigned to preside over the case of the three journalists, recused himself from the case and its political nature. The chairperson of the Marodi-Jeeh Regional Court, Abdi Qawdhan, personally took over the file as the presiding judge of the proceedings against the journalists.
Having concluded the hearing on 17 May, the court announced its verdict on 23 May: Journalists Mohamed Abdi Mohamed of MM Somali TV and Abdijabar Mohamed Hussein of HornCable TV were sentenced to sixteen (16) months’ imprisonment.
The court adjudged the two journalists guilty of the charges levelled against them under Articles 215 and 328 of Penal Code, while the same court acquitted Abdirahman Ali Khalif of Gobonnimo TV. The court absolved Mohamed Abdi Sheikh Mohamed who also doubles as the Director of MM Somali TV of the specific accusation of illegally operating an unregistered media business.
From the outset of the arrest and the start of the trial, we strongly suspected that the court was bent on delivering a guilty verdict. Local journalists see this event as a farcical miscarriage of justice and a frightening indictment of the media freedom situation in Somaliland. It is extremely concerning that the authorities prefer to use the Penal Code as the legal basis to prosecute journalists instead of the Somaliland Press Law and the judiciary as its implementer.
We find these trials to be a setback and an affront to Somaliland’s democratic governance and the values enshrined in the Somaliland constitution as well as African and international human rights standards and principles.
We therefore urge you, Your Excellency, to use your prerogatives bestowed upon the office of the President of Somaliland and ensure the unconditional and immediate release of Mohamed Abdi Mohamed and Abdijabar Mohamed Hussein, and to suspend the continued abuse of the Penal Code as a tool for the persecution of journalism.
The continued use of Penal Code against journalists represents a deliberate effort to criminalise journalism through the backdoor. This is the reason that we welcome the draft amendments to the Somaliland Press Law that was proposed to the Parliament to protect media freedom and safeguard journalists’ rights. It remains a powerful piece of legislation to protect media freedom and safeguard journalists’ rights.
- Federation of African Journalists (FAJ)
- International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
- Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ)
- National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ)
- Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
- The All Africa Editors Forum (TAEF)
- Uganda Journalists Union (UJU)