As SOLJA and Wadani party term the verdict as unconstitutional
By: Yusuf M Hasan
HARGEISA (Somalilandsun) – The case between the government of Somaliland and the Hatuuf media group-HMG has been concluded by the Hargeisa regional court.
The court after having found the HMG guilty of libel sentenced the editor of the paper Ahmed Ali Egge to four years imprisonment while the proprietor Yusuf Abdi Gabobe shall serve three years.
While the duo have the right to appeal within the specified period of time the Marodhi-jeeh regional court that also imposed a 50m slshs about $8000 (US) fine also withdrew the operating license of the Hatuuf media group a decision that effectively puts the group’s daily Somalia language newspaper ‘Hatuuf’ and weekly English language ‘Somaliland Times’ out of circulation for good.
The public vs. Hatuuf newspapers case originates from a number of items published pertaining to purported high level and unchecked corruption within high echelons of the government and more specifically as per oil deals undertaken by the Minister of Energy and minerals.
During hearing of the tension high public vs. Hatuuf case in which the government wanted the media group to produce evidence of its much publicized maladministration allegations against senior public officials and more specifically the minister of energy and minerals the paper’s proprietor, Gabobe, who was out on bail saw his freedom curtailed twice, once for contempt of court and later for non appearance for case mention.
Meanwhile the Somaliland journalist association-SOLJA and opposition political party of Wadani has termed the guilty verdict against the duo as unconstitutional and erroneous.
According to the secretary general of SOLJA Mohamed-Rashid Muhumed the entire prosecution process was illegal since the Hatuuf duo were arraigned in court as ordinary criminals thus contrary to the Somaliland media law #27/2004 .
Mohamed-Rashid who opinionated that the culmination of the Public vs. Hatuuf case with a guilty verdict as further proof of prevailing government policy to muzzle freedom of speech in the country said SOLJA shall appeal the judgment.
According to the Wadani party the sentencing of the Hatuuf proprietor and editor was illegal since due process of the law was not pursued owing to interference by the administration.
“The case was judged as per the wishes of the government thence the court being partial” said Wadani party chairman cum speaker of the Somaliland parliament Abdirahman Irro during a press conference in Hargeisa.
The saga that has saw the minister of Energy and Mineral resources Eng Hussein Abdi Duale counter with documentary evidence his allegedly, Hatuuf, misappropriation of $20,000 contributed by the central coffers towards covering travelling and accommodations of ministers participating in the historic vote of Somaliland recognition by the Sheffield city council culminated on April 7th when police took over the HMG offices in Hargeisa where the compound remains cordoned to date.
According to the minister of information, Culture and national Guidance Abdilahi Ukase, who acknowledged personal friendship with Gabobe, the administration had urged Hatuuf operatives to either provide evidence of its corruption allegations or in-lieu desist from publicizing related information to no vain thus having pushed the authorities to the wall the only option left was to pursue legal procedures.
“Whilst I am not contented with the closure of Hatuuf Media Group I am equally not in support of the paper publishing malicious allegations on the character of Bashe who is not a public official. Yusuf Abdi Gabobe (Proprietor) is my long time friend but that does not mean that he should defame or character assassinate anyone in any way without proof” said U’kuse during an address at a conference brainstorming challenges facing local media organized by SONSAF in Hargeisa.
While a number of journalists have seen the wrath of the current government which SOLJA claims is the harshest on the fourth estate the Hatuuf duo become the first to send to serve lengthily sentences of imprisonment.
On the other hand and while acknowledging tough actions against media by the government a number of stakeholders have accused local media houses of unethical acts and lack of professionalism thence the need to crackdown.
This case also resulted in the first instance of Telecommunication companies blocking an online publication in Somaliland following an order by the Hargeisa court that saw the Telecoms block the online versions of Hatuuf and Somalilandtimes sites that remain inaccessible since the 17th of April this year.