(NUSOJ/IFEX) - The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) is alarmed by reports that Hiiraan Online journalist Faysal Mohamed Hassan, who was unjustly sentenced to a one-year jail term by the Puntland Regional State, has been threatened with "illegal rendition" to Ethiopia by the Puntland authorities, allegedly because of his Ogadeni clan background. On 2 July 2011, a Puntland court handed down a one-year prison sentence against Hassan for allegedly "jeopardizing the security of Puntland and publishing false news."
Following nationwide condemnations of the unfair trial and heavy sentence against Hassan, the Puntland authorities were reportedly threatening to exile the journalist to Ethiopia, according to local journalists who spoke to powerful Puntland officials.
It is not clear why the Puntland authorities would threaten a Somali journalist operating in Somalia with exile to Ethiopia, where he would face persecution because of his heritage. Such threats of "illegal rendition" are not only unprecedented but are in clear violation of international law.
"We call upon the Puntland authorities to immediately cease and desist all threats of illegal rendition made against Faysal Mohamed Hassan," said Abdiweli Hassan Gooni, NUSOJ Puntland Coordinator.
"We reiterate our total condemnation of the one-year jail sentence handed down against Faysal Mohamed Hassan during his unfair so-called 'trial' in Bossasso," said Omar Faruk Osman, NUSOJ Secretary General.
If Hassan is illegally handed over to the Ethiopian authorities, NUSOJ will pursue legal action to highlight this case in international forums and media outlets.
Hassan, 24, was arrested on 29 June. On 2 July he appeared before a First Level Court. Members of his family and other journalists attended the hearing.
Acting on orders from senior Puntland government officials, the Bari region prosecutor, Bashir Mohamed Osman, officially charged Hassan and asked the court to sentence him to three years in prison on charges of "jeopardizing the security of Puntland and publishing false news", in accordance with Articles 219 and 215 of the Somali criminal code.
Hassan's two lawyers challenged the charges and the heavy sentence that the prosecutor was calling for. One the lawyers said the journalist did not violate the Puntland Constitution or the Transitional Federal Charter of Somalia and could not be prosecuted under the Somali criminal code for what he published.
The prosecutor stated that the charges related to the publication of news article on Hiiraan Online that reported that the bodies of two murdered men were found in a location called Yalho, a suburb of the town of Bossasso, in northeastern Somalia. Hiiraan Online further added that the two men were members of the Puntland security forces. The prosecutor also mentioned that the journalist published "false news" when he reported that citizens were calling on the Puntland president to "step down."
The chair of the court, Sheik Aden Aw-Ahmed, hurriedly sentenced Hassan. The journalist's lawyers immediately stated that they would launch an appeal of the sentence, saying the prosecution failed to produce evidence in support of the charges. Aw-Ahmed told Hassan's family and colleagues that they could pay a fine in place of the jail term, without mentioning the amount to pay if they decided to do so.
Ahmed Mohamud Mohamed, NUSOJ's Secretary for Labour Issues, who attended the court hearing and was present for the verdict, held a press conference in Bossasso during which he stated, "These are fabricated charges. The trial violated Hassan's right to free expression. We all witnessed that he was unfairly tried and that there was no reason for the imposition of a prison sentence."
One of the lawyers told NUSOJ that the judicial process was unfair, with violations at every turn, including contradictory statements from the prosecutor, procedural irregularities and the hurried manner in which the journalist was sentenced within two hours when he first appeared before the court, while the prosecutor produced no single piece of evidence to substantiate the charges.
Hassan was immediately handcuffed and taken to the Bossasso central prison.
Hassan also worked as a stringer for ETN TV.