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Radio journalists given hefty fines in Somalia, one still detained

UPDATE from the National Union of Somali Journalists: Radio editor freed on bail after 198 days in pre-trial detention (23 March 2015).

This statement was originally published on cpj.org on 3 March 2015.

A Somali court in Mogadishu on Sunday convicted one journalist of public incitement and two others of publishing false news and imposed harsh fines on them, according to news reports. The journalists are out of prison, but a fourth is still being detained, the reports said.

The Banadir Regional Court in Mogadishu convicted Abdimalik Yusuf Mohamed, owner of the independent Shabelle Media Network, of public incitement and fined him US$10,000, according to news reports and local journalists. Mohamud Mohamed Dahir, director of Sky FM, and Ahmed Abdi Hassan, a presenter for Shabelle FM, were fined US$2,000 and US$500, respectively, for publishing false news with the intent to disturb public order, the same sources said. The court postponed the journalists' hearing twice before issuing Sunday's verdict.

The Shabelle Media Network paid the journalists' fines, and Mohamud was released from jail, news reports said. Abdimalik and Ahmed had been released in October, months before the verdict. Sky FM and Shabelle FM are two stations in the network.

A fourth journalist, Shabelle radio producer Mohamed Bashir Hashi, is still being detained on accusations of promoting insurrection against the state. The court postponed his hearing, local journalists told CPJ.

"By imposing hefty fines, the Somali government is attempting to silence the flow of news in the country. These measures have a chilling effect on the ability of journalists and news outlets to publish and broadcast freely," said CPJ East Africa Representative Tom Rhodes. "We welcome the release of Mohamud Mohamed Dahir from jail, but call on the Somali government to free Mohamed Bashir Hashi immediately."

On August 15, 2014, security agents arrested Abdimalik, Mohamud, and Ahmed in the offices of the Shabelle Media Network and confiscated the transmitters of Radio Shabelle and Sky FM, according to news reports and local journalists. On September 6, security agents arrested Mohamed Bashir Hashi near his home in Mogadishu, the same sources said. Radio Shabelle and Sky FM have been off the air since the raid, but the website has continued publishing, local journalists told CPJ.

The journalists were arrested after authorities accused the network of inciting the public to violence and urging clans to fight security forces, government spokesman Abdirahman Omar told CPJ via email. Shabelle's broadcasts came at a time when authorities were attempting to disarm a militia in the capital, news reports said.

In a separate case, authorities on Sunday charged Radio Risaala journalist Mohamed Ali Abdi with publishing false news that could disturb public order, local journalists told CPJ. The court fined Mohamed US$500 and released him on Monday after the fine was paid, the same sources said. Mohamed was arrested on January 3 in connection with a report that alleged a suspected Ebola patient was living in the Lower Shabelle region of the country. The Ministry of Health denied the allegation.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
What other IFEX members are saying
  • NUSOJ condemns “Gross miscarriage of justice” after conviction against journalists & independent media network

    “Rather than convicted criminals, we consider our colleagues to be innocent journalists who were doing their own media work and they were denied their right to freedom of expression. The verdict must not be allowed to stand. We call on Somali authorities to release them immediately and unconditionally.”

  • Harsh sentences for four Somali radio journalists

    “These proceedings are farcical. The jail terms were imposed simply to justify the long spells spent in pre-trial detention, while the size of the fines and the ridiculous charges against Hashi show that the aim is to persecute and suppress independent media in Somalia, especially Shabelle Media Network’s radio stations.”



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