The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has vigorously condemned the detention of two journalists in Somaliland.
According to IFJ affiliate, the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), Yusuf Abdi Gabobe, owner and chairman of Haatuf Media Network, and Ahmed Ali Igeh, editor-in-chief of Haatuf newspaper, were arrested by Somaliland police on 10 May inside Hargeisa regional court. The court ordered their imprisonment.
The NUSOJ reported that the Hargeisa court heard complaints by Somaliland's Minister of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources, Mr. Hussein Abdi Duale, and Somaliland's Minister of Interior, Ali Mohamed Waran Ade, who both came to the court and personally spoke to make their caseson how Haatuf newspaper had wronged them.
The two ministers accused Haatuf of spreading false information and making defamation to kill their reputation and the one of Somaliland presidency. The hearing continued for five hours. At the end of the hearing, the two journalists were detained and taken to a detention centre.
Lawyers defending the two journalists complained in the court about bias from the presiding judge whom they accused of siding with the prosecutor and Somaliland officials.
“The two journalists must be released immediately. Arresting journalists, shutting down independent media houses and blocking access to news sites will only tarnish the image of Somaliland authorities and ruin the benefits of dialogue,” said Gabriel Baglo, IFJ Africa director.
“Only dialogue between authorities and the media would provide a more enabling environment for media freedom, freedom of expression and ultimately citizen empowerment.”
NUSOJ has stated that the arrest and treatment of Yusuf Abdi Gabobe and Ahmed Ali Igeh is unconstitutional and undermines the freedom of expression and the rule of law in Somaliland.
“We find it uncalled for that journalists will be criminalised by writing about Somaliland officials. It is pure and simple harassment,” said Omar Faruk Osman, NUSOJ Secretary General.
The NUSOJ saysthe journalist’s arrest is based on outmoded pieces of Somali Penal Code enacted during the reign of the military government to suppress dissent and promote authoritarian rule. The prosecutor reportedly refused to base his charges against journalists on Somaliland’s press law.
The IFJ joins the NUSOJ to say that the use of criminal defamation provision in penal code unnecessarily censures journalists in their work and induces self-censorship, thereby restricting the exercise of the right to freedom of expression.
“Our position is that the pursuit of criminal defamation is tantamount to criminalizing freedom of expression as guaranteed in the constitution of Somaliland and article 19 of universal declaration of human rights,” added Osman.
The NUSOJ is particularly concerned about the threats to freedom of expression in cyberspace is strongly urging the local authorities and telecommunication companies not to set a very bad precedent in light of these developments.
Somaliland ordered three telecommunication companies to block access to news sites of Haatuf newspaper and its sister newspaper Somaliland Times, which are currently inaccessible in Somaliland.
On 7 April 2014, a shutdown order against the independent daily newspaper Haatuf was implemented by Somaliland police after being issued by Marodi Jeeh Regional Court in Hargeisa. Around one hundred police officers came to the headquarters of the newspaper and ordered journalists and media workers to vacate. Police still occupy the premises of the newspaper.