Somaliland: State must abandon Criminal Charges against journalists

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East African Human defenders

Somalilandsun – The issuing of criminal charges against journalists Abdirashid Nur and Said Khadar is a shocking attempt by Somaliland’s authorities to curtail freedom of expression, said the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (Defenddefenders) today in a statement.

quote -The two journalists are accused of publishing and circulating false information among others, under Somalia’s Penal Code of 1962 and are due to have their first hearing in court this Saturday on 23 January.

“This prosecution is politically motivated with the Somaliland authorities sending a clear message they will crack down on media for discussing sensitive issues” said Hassan Shire, the Executive Director of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project. “Somaliland must stop its repression of journalists and allow media workers to do their work without harassment or intimidation.”

In late October, Hubsad published an article stating the government of Somaliland was selling land it owned unlawfully and this is widely believed to be the real reason behind their arrest.

On 30 November 2015 Abdirashid, chairman of Hubsad newspaper and Said, the editor-in-chief of Hubsad newspaper, were arrested at Hargeisa’s Criminal Investigation Department. Prior to their arrest, the two journalists had visited the Office of the Attorney General to register the names of new leadership and ownership of their newspaper but were sent to the police station and on the Attorney General’s orders, arrested. In late October, Hubsad had been shut down by the authorities – after only three days in operation – on the basis that the journalists were running an unlicensed paper.

However, according to Abdirashid and Said’s lawyers, Hubsad is a registered newspaper. Although the ownership and leadership had transferred from previous management to Abdirashid and Said, Somaliland’s press law does not require re-registration of a media house if the ownership and staff change.

The two journalists were released on 3 December but have been subsequently charged under Somalia’s Penal Code of 1962 for publication or circulation of false, exaggerated or tendencious news capable of disturbing public order (article 328), substitution of person (article 383) and unauthorised or prohibited business agencies and public trading concerns (article 518). Their first hearing will be taking place this Saturday on 23 January. If the court decided that they acted in violation of the law – once the case is concluded – both could face at least one year of imprisonment and revocation of the license of their newspaper.

In 2004, Somaliland introduced a media law for regulation purposes. Article 3 recognises that freedom of the press is enshrined in the Constitution and states that no restraints can be imposed on the press. Any acts that can be construed as amounting to censorship are prohibited. The media law also provides that any infringements committed by journalists are treated as civil issues. This provision has not been applied in Abdirashid and Said’s case.

In the recent past Somaliland has closed media outlets perceived to be publishing stories that are “anti-government”. In April 2014, police officers entered the premises of Haatuf and ordered the newspaper’s immediate closure. The following month, a regional court remanded the Chairman of Haatuf, and Chief Editor of the network in custody after charging them with libel, false publication, and anti-state propaganda. Both were eventually released but the newspaper remains closed at the time of writing.

DefendDefenders calls on the Somaliland authorities to:

– drop the criminal charges against Abdirashid Nur and Said Khadar;

– re-open Haatuf publication and;

– take the necessary measures to stop all acts of intimidation carried out against journalists and respect their right to freedom of opinion and expression.

For further information please contact:

Hassan Shire, Executive Director, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project on:executive@defenddefenders.org or +256 772 753 753 (English and Somali)

Kafia Omar, Special Programs Officer, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project on:specialprograms@defenddefenders.org or +256 312265824/ +256 775878392 (English and Somali)

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