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Somaliland’s guilty verdict against broadcast journalists spells doom for the independent practice of journalism

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The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) rejects in totality and condemns the decision of the Hargeisa Regional court that sentenced journalists Mohamed Abdi Sheikh Mohamed (Ilig) of MM Somali TV and Abdijabar Mohamed Hussein of HornCable TV to sixteen (16) months’ imprisonment on contested charges.

In a verdict delivered on 23 May 2022, the court sentenced the TV journalists, to a prison-term, after it adjudged them guilty of the charges levelled against them, while the same court acquitted Abdirahman Ali Khalif of Gobonnimo TV. The journalists have been in detention since 13 April, following their arrest after they reported about a riot by inmates at Hargeisa Central Prison.

From the outset of the trial, NUSOJ observed that the court was bent on delivering a guilty verdict, in what the union sees as a farcical miscarriage of justice and frightening indictment of the lack of media freedom in Somaliland. The authorities have become notorious for their continued abuse of judicial process to persecute journalists.

“Even as we welcome the acquittal of Abdirahman Ali Khalif, we condemn the unjustified arrest, prosecution and convictions of Mohamed Abdi Sheikh Mohamed and Abdijabar Mohamed Hussein on trumped up charges. From the outset of the trial, it was clear that the court always intended to deliver a guilty verdict, in what we see as a farcical miscarriage of justice and frightening indictment of the worsening state of media freedom in Somaliland” said NUSOJ Secretary General Omar Faruk Osman.

Mohamed Abdi Sheikh Mohamed (Ilig) who also doubles as the Director of MMTV was initially accused of illegally operating an unregistered business. The court absolved him on this charge but convicted him on the count of spreading false information against the state. The charge was based on live reports that he relayed about the commotion involving inmates and prison warders at Hargeisa Central Prison on April 13. This means that while he remains in detention, the TV channel is free to operate. 

HornCable’s Abdijibar Mohamed Hussein was separately charged with posting on his Facebook page a story about the events at the prison in which the prosecution claimed he said the security forces had ordered residents living in the neighbourhood of the prison to leave their homes due to the fighting and that the same information was posted and reported live on the Facebook of Horn Cable TV, when such statement was not made by the police.

“Our colleagues have been convicted on what were politically instigated charges using an old and outdated penal code which is being used as tool to criminalise journalism. The court relied on coached witnesses after some of the soldiers who were earlier asked to bear witness against the journalists refused to turn up in court. Even the judge who was first assigned to hear this case recused himself from the trial.

“We reject these convictions because they represent an abuse of judicial process which continues a sad and dangerous trend in Somalia. We call for an immediate review of the entire case which we believe will arrive at a more rational outcome based on the facts tendered by the defence which the court chose to ignore,” Osman added.

NUSOJ will continue to stand in solidarity with Mohamed Abdi Sheikh Mohamed (Ilig) and Abdijabar Mohamed Hussein, and will make every effort to shine the light on this gross injustice as well as garner solidarity for their cause.