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Editor Mohamed Abdi Guled sentenced to five months in prison, concerns that the sentencing was "politically-motivated"

(NUSOJ/IFEX) - The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) is shocked by the five-month prison sentence handed down against a leading editor accused of unlawfully printing a newspaper and spreading lies.

On 17 March 2009, the Hargeisa regional court sentenced Mohamed Abdi Guled, editor-in-chief of the "Yool" weekly newspaper in Hargeisa, to a five-month prison term for publishing a newspaper that does not have permission to print and "spreading lies", according to fellow journalists and family members who were present at the court.

Mohamed Abdi Guled, widely known as Urad, was arrested on 26 February. According to journalists in Hargeisa, Urad was initially accused for writing an article published in the newspaper on 24 February, which was about secret killings of Somaliland leaders. The article stated that there is a plan to assassinate some members of the Somaliland parliament, leaders of opposition parties and traditional elders.

Journalists in Somaliland strongly believe that the arrest of Mohamed Abdi Guled was politically motivated after they saw strong interference from Somaliland ministers, especially Finance Minister Awil Ali Duale, who was seen on 17 March at the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) to influence the judges and prosecutor.

The Hargeisa court could not prove that Mohamed Abdi Guled was guilty and the judge played the role of a government prosecutor by confirming the charges brought by the prosecutor, said another editor who has worked with Mohamed Abdi Guled for many years but does not want to be named because he fears persecution.

Family members and journalists in the court room were ordered to exit the room when the judge was announcing the verdict. The public prosecutor refused the family's request to make a payment in place of the jail sentence.

"We strongly protest this politically motivated sentence since Mohamed Abdi Guled did not get a free and fair trail," said Omar Faruk Osman, NUSOJ's Secretary General. "This is an intolerable campaign of harassment against critical journalists in order to keep them from reporting on election campaigns independently".

Opposition political parties are accusing the government of trying to put pressure on the news media. "This kind of repression against media professionals proves how the authorities do not uphold international norms of democracy and human rights, including respect and protection for press freedom," Omar Faruk added.

"Due to the apparent pattern of repression against journalists and news media, we appeal to the international community backing the Somaliland elections to put pressure on the Somaliland authorities to stop the violent suppression of the media," Omar Faruk said.

Updates the Abdi Guled case:

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