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Somaliland: Court revokes Haatuf Media Network's licence, jails chairman and editor

The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) has strongly condemned the guilty verdict and the jail sentence by Somaliland court against journalists of the Haatuf Media Network.

The Hargeisa Regional Court announced this morning [25 June 2014] that it found Yusuf Abdi Gabobe, chairman of Haatuf Media Network and Ahmed Ali Igeh, Editor-in-chief of Haatuf newspaper, guilty of all charges. The two journalists were charged with "spreading false information" and "defamation" against Somaliland Ministers and the son-in-law of the Somaliland president.

Yusuf Abdi Gabobe was sentenced to three years in jail while Ahmed Ali Igeh was condemned to four years in prison. The court revoked the licence of the Haatuf Media Network, which publishes Haatuf newspaper (in Somali language) and The Somaliland Times (in English). Both journalists were immediately taken to the central prison in Hargeisa.

"We condemn these harsh, disproportionate, intimidating and unacceptable sentences against Yusuf Abdi Gabobe and Ahmed Ali Igeh, which take media repression in Somaliland to record levels," said Omar Faruk Osman, NUSOJ Secretary General. He said the court rulings in the case "prove the manipulation of justice in Somaliland in order to silence critical reporting on Somaliland's leadership."

Two lawyers defending the two journalists complained in the court about bias from the presiding judge, whom they accused of siding with the prosecutor and Somaliland officials. The lawyers walked away from the court at the last session.

“The Somaliland judicial system is cynically using the threat of prison to stifle legitimate media work and suppress freedom of expression,” declared Osman.

The arrest, persecution and sentence of Gabobe and Igeh are based on outmoded pieces of the Somali Penal Code enacted during the military government to suppress dissent and promote authoritarian rule. The prosecutor reportedly refused to base his charges against journalists on Somaliland's press law.

NUSOJ bemoans the use of criminal defamation law through the Somali Penal Code, as it is a major obstacle to freedom of expression. The union believes that anybody who feels harmed can seek redress through the civil courts in the form of a retraction, apology or compensatory payment for demonstrable damages.

“Issuing prison sentences to impede the free flow of ideas, information and opinions is quite plainly not compatible with democratic principles that Somaliland claims to be promoting and practicing,” added Osman.

Somaliland ordered three telecommunication companies to block access to news sites of Haatuf newspaper and its sister newspaper The Somaliland Times, which are currently inaccessible in Somaliland.

On 7 April 2014, a shutdown order against the independent daily newspaper Haatuf was implemented by Somaliland police after being issued by the Marodi Jeeh Regional Court in Hargeisa. Some hundred police forces came to the headquarters of the newspaper and ordered journalists and media workers to vacate. Police still occupy the premises of the newspaper.

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