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Editor found guilty of defaming transport minister

(NUSOJ/IFEX) - 1 May 2011 - The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) expresses its deepest concern over continuing legal cases against journalists and media outlets in Somalia after a regional court ruled against an editor-in-chief of a daily newspaper over a defamation charge.

On 30 April 2011, Hargeisa Regional Court announced its verdict in a defamation case filed by Somaliland Civil Aviation and Air Transport Minister Mohamed Hashi Abdi in January 2011 against the editor-in-chief of "Saxafi" newspaper, Abdifatah Mohamud Aidid.

Aidid was charged with defamation by the Somaliland prosecution over a December 2010 article in "Saxafi", which reportedly cited the "mishandling" of a US$10 million donation from the Government of Kuwait by the Civil Aviation and Air Transport Minister. This donation was seemingly meant for the refurbishment of the Hargeisa and Berbera airports.

Somaliland Prosecutor Adan Salad Sed, who was representing the Minister in this legal case, requested that the court convict the journalist under Article 287 of the Penal Code, which allows for imprisonment for a period to be determined by the judge.

The newspaper editor was convicted of offending the name and reputation of Minister Hashi Abdi, and was, as a consequence, ordered to pay a fine of 6,000,000 Somaliland Shillings (approx. US$1,000). The court, which obliged the journalist to pay the fine within 30 days, also warned "Saxafi" that its licence would be revoked should the paper defame the Minister again.

NUSOJ condemns this verdict, which demonstrates the severe and constant violations of freedom of expression and of the press in Somaliland. "We believe that Abdifatah Mohamud Aidid and 'Saxafi' newspaper were targeted and prosecuted with the sole aim of curbing their freedom to express criticism. We therefore appeal to the Somaliland authorities to drop the charges against them," said Omar Faruk Osman, NUSOJ Secretary General.

Hargeisa Regional Court Judge Said Yusuf Indho'ad rejected the prosecutor's request to convict the journalist under Article 287 of the Penal Code. However, the judge informed Aidid that he would face imprisonment if he failed to pay the fine within 30 days from the date of the court decision.

After the announcement of the court ruling, Prosecutor Sed was reportedly furious and vowed to appeal the verdict in order to ensure that the journalist is convicted under Article 287. Lawyers defending the journalist also said that they plan to appeal.

"This present case is an example of the use of criminal defamation in Somaliland against media houses and journalists. These recurring legal cases are clearly intended to hinder the work of the independent press in Somaliland," said the NUSOJ Secretary General.

NUSOJ believes that the right to defence for journalists who find themselves involved in legal disputes with Somaliland ministers and other public officials is not guaranteed and basic standards for a fair trial are not met.

"We strongly urge the Somaliland authorities to guarantee the protection of journalists who face retaliation from public officials because of their exercise of the right to press freedom," declared Osman.

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