The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) condemns the crude assault on media freedom by authorities in Somaliland, who this week, brought contradictory and unsubstantiated criminal charges against journalists Mohamed Abdi Mohamed of MM Somali TV, Abdijabar Mohamed Hussein of HornCable TV and Abdirahman Ali Khalif of Gobonnimo TV.
In detention since 13 April 2022, the trio were produced in court in Hargeisa on 9 May 2022 where they were variously levelled with criminal charges under Articles 215 (Subversive or Anti-Nation Propaganda) and 328 (Publication or Circulation of False, Exaggerated, or Tendentious News Capable of Disturbing the Public Order) of the Penal Code.
According to the particulars in the charge sheet, they are explicitly accused of “spreading false information” against the “State” when they filed reports and relayed live broadcasts about the riot that took place at Hargeisa Central Prison on April 13.
In the second count, Abdijabar Mohamed Hussein of HornCable TV is separately charged with posting on his Facebook page a story about the events at the prison. Prosecution claims that he said the security forces ordered local 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 as claimed by the prosecution.
On charge three for Mohamed Abdi “Sheikh” Mohamed of MM Somali TV is exclusively accused of violating Article 518 (Unauthorised or Prohibited Business Agencies and Public Trading Concerns) of the Penal Code by operating an unregistered news media organisation, MM Somali TV without the proper licenses.
NUSOJ has condemned the charges which it says are malicious and clearly meant to criminalize journalism. The union points to gaps in the charge sheet that it says are contradictory because the prosecution appears to acknowledge and then denies the events that transpired at Hargeisa Central Prison on April 13.
“This is yet another sad example of the use of outdated and unconstitutional criminal laws being used to intimidate journalists. The purpose is to punish journalists under the outdated and oppressive penal code for just doing their journalistic work freely and independently,” said NUSOJ Secretary General Omar Faruk Osman.
“We find the charges uncalled for, misconceived and misplaced. The reporting by the journalists was factual since there was no way they could have manufactured the footage that was aired on live television,”.
The three journalists will appear again in the court tomorrow, Saturday, 14 May. “We unequivocally demand for the immediate withdrawal of these trumped up charges and the unconditional release of the three journalists” added Osman.
NUSOJ reiterates its total condemnation of this opportunistic use of archaic laws in the penal code against journalists and stands by the accused journalists whose real crime was to report what the authorities did not like.
Mahad Mohamed Yusuf, the judge that was originally assigned to preside over the case of the three journalists had recused himself from handling the case, and the chairperson of the Marodi-Jeeh Regional Court, Abdi Qawdhan, personally took over the file as the presiding judge of the proceedings against the journalists.
NUSOJ believes that this case is a politically-motivated trial and is meant to prosecute the journalists under concocted charges while the real motives behind their continued detention remain officially unspecified.