The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) is shocked and deeply saddened with the detention of journalists for allegedly “defaming” Somaliland officials and “publishing false Information”.
Two journalists, Yusuf Abdi Gabobe, owner and chairman of Haatuf Media Network, and Ahmed Ali Igeh, Editor-in-chief of Haatuf newspaper were arrested by Somaliland police on 10 May 2014 inside Hargeisa Regional Court after the court ordered their imprisonment.
The Hargeisa court heard complaints by Somaliland’s Minister of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources, Mr Hussein Abdi Duale and Somaliland’s Minister of Interior, Ali Mohamed Waran Ade who both came to the court and personally spoke to make their case of how Haatuf newspaper wronged them. The two ministers accused Haatuf of spreading false information and making defamation to kill their reputation and the one of Somaliland presidency. The hearing continued for five hours. At the end of the hearing, the two journalists were chained and taken to detention centre.
Two lawyers defending the two journalists complained in the court about bias from the presiding judge whom they accused of siding with the prosecutor and Somaliland officials.
NUSOJ considers the arrest and treatment of Yusuf Abdi Gabobe and Ahmed Ali Igeh as unconstitutional and retrogressive for Somaliland’s just rule of law and affront to freedom of expression.
“We find it uncalled for that journalists will be criminalised by writing about Somaliland officials. It is pure and simple harassment,” said Omar Faruk Osman, NUSOJ Secretary General.
The arrest of Gabobe and Igeh is based on outmoded pieces of Somali Penal Code enacted during the military government to suppress dissent and promote authoritarian rule. The prosecutor reportedly refused to base his charges against journalists on Somaliland’s press law.
NUSOJ deplores the use of criminal defamation law through Somali Penal Code, as it is a major obstacle to freedom of expression. This is in light of the fact that there is the option of civil defamation remedies.
The use of criminal defamation provision in penal code unnecessarily censures journalists in their work and induces self-censorship, thereby restricting the exercise of the right to freedom of expression.
“Our position is that the pursuit of criminal defamation is tantamount to criminalizing freedom of expression as guaranteed in the constitution of Somaliland and article 19 of universal declaration of human rights,” added Osman.
Archaic laws have no role to play in a democracy and we call upon Somali authorities to desist from implementing them and dragging the country to the military era, declared Osman.
NUSOJ is particularly concerned about the threats to freedom of expression in cyberspace and strongly urges the local authorities and telecommunication companies not to set a very bad precedent in light of these developments. Somaliland ordered three telecommunication companies to block access to news sites of Haatuf newspaper and its sister newspaper Somaliland Times, which are currently inaccessible in Somaliland.
On 7 April 2014, a shutdown order against the independent daily newspaper Haatuf was implemented by Somaliland police after being issued by Marodi Jeeh Regional Court in Hargeisa. Some hundred police forces came to the headquarters of the newspaper and ordered journalists and media workers to vacate. Police still occupy the premises of the newspaper.
Arresting journalists, shutting down independent media houses and blocking access to news sites will only tarnish the image of Somaliland authorities and ruin the benefits of dialogue. Only dialogue between authorities and the media would provide a more enabling environment for media freedom, freedom of expression and ultimately citizen empowerment.