The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) has today termed sentence of two journalists to 2 years in prison each by Somaliland court for publishing an article on the Internet as a “new low for freedom of expression in Somaliland”.

On 7 January 2018, journalists Ahmed Dirie Iltire and Mohamed Abdullahi Hussein of xeegonews.com were convicted of crimes accused by Somaliland prosecutors in Borame of Awdal region. The prosecutors indicted the two journalists for “spreading propaganda against the nation, degrading the nation, and disgracing national flag & symbol of foreign country (Ethiopia)”.

Charges levelled against the two journalists are coming after xeegonews.com published an article which claimed that Ethiopian militias of Oromo ethnic group were being trained and armed in Borame in order “to attack” Ethiopia’s Somali region (Zone 5) as part of the conflict between Oromo and Somali ethnic groups. NUSOJ received a copy of the article, though it was later removed from xeegonews.com due to pressure from authorities.

“This devastating verdict follows the sham trial of two journalists who should never have been arrested in the first place. Ahmed Dirie and Mohamed Abdullahi have been victimised by authorities that are intolerant of criticism and dissent,” said Omar Faruk Osman, NUSOJ Secretary General.

NUSOJ condemned the ruling and accused the Somaliland authorities of waging a campaign of vilification and intimidation targeting independent journalists, including such means as arbitrary arrests and sham trials.

“Somaliland authorities are sending a clear message to journalists: keep silent or face years in prison. This ruling is absolutely a gross miscarriage of justice. Authorities are actively using old, draconian criminal law to criminalise freedom of expression, particularly the right of journalists to publish critical reports,” added Osman.

This sentence comes on the heels of a systematic clampdown on freedom of expression in Somaliland where the authorities have targeted independent journalists, arresting a dozen in the past year, and turning the judiciary as a tool available to legalise punishment of journalists.

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