The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) has today called for the immediate and unconditional release of a journalist arrested in Somaliland after posting a comment on Facebook.

On Thursday, 13 December 2018, Somaliland Police arrested Hassan Handule, reporter of Mogadishu-based Goobjoog Media group in Burao city of Somaliland’s Togdheer region. According to journalists in Buroa, Handule – nicknamed Dun-Arbeed – was arrested from a restaurant and then taken to central police station to explain himself over a complaint filed by the Regional (Togdheer) Attorney General, Jama Duale Said. However, the police detained the journalist after taking his statement.

The complaint from Regional Attorney General is based on a Facebook post by the journalist which cited alleged “corruption in the Office of Attorney General”. Jama Duale Said specified in his submission to the police that the Facebook post is an “injurious comment”.

On 15 December, Hassan Handule was taken to Burao court whereby the judge heard the “defamation” accusations levelled against him under criminal law, without any lawyer to defend him. The judge ordered the journalist’s continued detention for seven (7) days more at Buroa central prison, while awaiting verdict.

“The arrest and continued detention of Hassan Handule is unwarranted and constitutes a clear act of curtailment of freedom of expression, and we absolutely reject judicial harassment of journalists under criminal law when facing defamation charges. We call for Hassan’s immediate release and Somaliland authorities to drop charges levelled against him”, said Omar Faruk Osman, NUSOJ Secretary General.

There have been increasing cases of arrests and harassment of journalists in Somaliland, often on the orders of prosecutors or politicians, and the courts have in almost all cases punished journalists, and these acts send signal to all journalists that they could be next for criticizing the authorities.

NUSOJ reiterates its long-standing position that defamation is not a criminal offence and the judiciary must stop being a tool for politicians and State officials in punishing and silencing journalists.

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