Somaliland: Hubaal Duo Imprisoned as SOLJA Accuse the State of Covert Intent to Muzzle Freedom of the Press

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“The closure of Hubaal newspaper and subsequent imprisonment of its top operatives is a culmination of the government’s on-going strategy of eliminating the country’s fledgling independent media” – SOLJA

By: Yusuf M Hasan Aloley gets 1 year and Hasan 2

HARGEISA (Somalilandsun) –The curtain to the Hubaal newspaper saga was lowered at the Hargeisa regional court with the imprisonment of the paper’s two top honchos.

The state vs. Hubaal Media group legal showdown has been concluded with the administration gaining the upper hand after the Hargeisa Regional court imposed a one year Sentence on the paper’s chief editor Mohamed Ahmed Jama ‘Aloley’ while Editor Hasan Hussein Abdilahi is to serve two years in imprisonment.

The much anticipated case which took a couple of hours to hear and pass judgment saw the Hubaal duo face two charges of propagating false information for public consumption contrary to section 10, 12, 13 &14 of the media laws #27/2004.

Moamed Rashid says charges are tramped upAccording to the Somaliland Journalist Association-SOLJA secretary General Mohamed-Rashid Muhumed Farah “These were tramped up charges meant to legalize the elimination of Hubaal media group”

The two charges that saw the beleaguered duo receive the sentences in a hastily conducted hearing which were first brought to light via court letter signed by Regional Attorney general Farhan Osman Mire and addressed to the two and dated 17th June 2013 informed that the court has sufficient evidence against Hubaal media group pertaining to the propagation of false information for public consumption, an act that was geared towards creating diplomatic fallout and public discontent as relates to

1. Publishing malicious rumours to the effect that the Ethiopian Diplomatic staff based in Hargeisa is engaged in the smuggling into the country of illicit drugs like Alcohol and Hashish (Marijuana, Cannabis sativa) in the Hubaal newspaper issue 147 published on the 21st Jan 2013 and

2. Publishing malicious and unfounded rumours purporting that the head of state is sickly and has relinquished his mandate and duties to a minister at the presidency in the Hubaal newspaper on issue 262 published 10th June 2013

According to the regional attorney general the two senior Hubaal newspaper operatives had flagrantly and knowingly contravened section 10, 12, 13 &14 of the media laws #27/2004 thus the court hearing that led to the sentencing.

The Somaliland Journalists Association-SOLJA a local fourth estate welfare body that pulls its membership from the independent print and electronic media houses both private and state owned believes that the imprisonment of the Hubaal duo is the opening curtain of the final nail to the coffin of independent media in the country which the state has been orchestrating for the past two and half years as can be ascertained by the almost  100 arrests of journalists effected within that short period which is more than of the other prior 19 years since the country reclaimed its sovereignty in 1991.

In an interview with Somalilandsun the secretary general of SOLJA Mr Mohamed –Rashid said “The closure of Hubaal newspaper and subsequent imprisonment of its top operatives is a culmination of the government’s on-going strategy of eliminating the country’s fledgling independent media”

SOLJA which intends to pursue the release of the now guests of the state Hubaal editors is in the processes of engaging a local or internationally based legal counsel to oversee the on the table appeal to the country’s highest court of law.

In the meantime SOLJA says that its executive committee is in consultation as to the viability of paralysing the disbursement of news and information to the public through a strike by all independent media houses in the country.

The executive committee is also consulting on avenues of co-joining members of the public in its demands for the immediate and unconditional release of the duo whose media house suspension and imprisonment SOLJA terms as the beginning of the end of independent media as it is today.

The saga between the administration and the Hubaal media group that has been afoot covertly took an ugly turn when two masked and armed men attacked the paper’s offices andattempted to assasinate  chief editor Aloley who managed to escape with only a broken hand after subduing one of his assailants and confiscating his cell phone, pistol and assorted sticks.

The attackers later identified as serving police officers by the minister of interior and police commissioner are yet to be arraigned in court despite their identity being in the public domainEditor Aloley after attack by armed gunmen

A short while after the brutal attack a court order which was issued by the Maroodi-jeeh (Hargeisa) Regional court on 11th June 2013 ordered the Hubaal media group to suspend its operations with immediate with a caveat warning printing houses of legal action if found to have flouted the order.

The attack and subsequent closure of the media house resulted in a hue and cry both nationally and internationally demanding the arraignment in court of the two police officers who attacked the media house and the immediate rescinding of the closure order.

A Human rights activists and former Human rights commissioner in the US state of Oregon Mr Nagib Ahmed Shunuf says that the imprisonment of the duo and Hubaal closure is a distasteful act that shall not only portray the government as dictatorial in the eyes of the international community but “one that shall negatively impinge on the country’s quest for international recognition”

Mr Shunuf who opinionated that powers to prosecute Aloley and Hasan as well as shut down the paper originate from the recently ratified and hotly contested National intelligence act said, “This act gives the state dictatorial powers especially as pertains to media houses in which a carte blanch authority is legalized for any action the government deems fit on the fourth estate.

With things as they are with both the daily Somali language (Hubaal) and weekly English language (independent) newspaper newspapers put out of business and the imprisonment of its two senior officers the state is certainly in the driver’s seat for it has won the first round.

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