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Journalist sentenced to three years in prison in Somaliland

(NUSOJ/IFEX) - 23 January 2011 - The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) strongly condemns the three-year prison sentence handed down to journalist Mohamud Abdi Jama, editor of the independent "Waheen" newspaper, following a defamation claim brought by a Somaliland police chief. Jama was also fined 6 million Somaliland shillings (US$900).

On Saturday, 22 January 2011, judge Ali Sudi Dirie found Jama guilty of "defamation and spreading false news" against a Somaliland police chief and director of the Somaliland Electricity Agency. The charges stem from articles the journalist wrote in his paper about reports of nepotism in the electricity agency and the police.

"We condemn Jama's sentence and call on the court of appeals to overturn the judgment. This verdict is out of step and can only be taken as an attempt to silence and intimidate the independent press," said Omar Faruk Osman, NUSOJ Secretary General.

Jama was immediately taken to Hargeisa's central prison, where he was denied bail. His media house was also refused the option of paying a fine to avoid imprisonment. The journalist's lawyer will take the case to the appellate court.

NUSOJ is, in addition, tremendously disturbed by five legal cases pending against the independent press in Somaliland. The "Saxafi", "Hargeisa Star", "Ogaal" and "Yool" newspapers all face charges of defamation and slander, leveled against them by the Somaliland prosecutor. The Hargeisa regional court is expected to hear the cases and review the evidence.

"The independent print media is subjected to pressure tactics for freely exercising journalism. We demand all these charges be dropped immediately and unconditionally," said Faruk, adding that such legal harassment constituted "a blow to Somaliland's emerging democracy."

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