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Somalia18 January 2007

Letter to Somaliland’s president about his unequal battle with newspaper

Mr. Dahir Rayale Kahin
President of the Republic
Hargeysa, Somaliland

Paris, 18 January 2007

Dear Mr. President,

Justice has played very little role in what has happened with the newspaper Haatuf. Ever since the arrest of Yusuf Abdi Gabode and Ali Abdi Dini, the entire case has been marked by unfairness, procedural irregularities, personal revenge and the denial of democratic principles. These journalists are being prosecuted by the Somaliland government on charges of “insulting” the president and his aides under the 1962 Somali criminal code, although it was superseded by the 2004 press law.

With no other means of defence than their lawyer, they have had to face the entire repressive arsenal available to the government - police, judicial system and prisons. Jailed in violation of the democratic principle that imprisonment is a disproportionate punishment for press offences, they have not been allowed visits. You can see that the battle is not an equal one.

Somaliland is not the first country where a president or prime minister has been cut to the quick by a newspaper and has brought his wrath to bear on the journalists responsible. It is, unfortunately, very common in Africa. But government by means of revenge not only violates the freedom which the press needs, but is also dangerous for the country concerned. Jailing journalists for what they have written does nothing to repair the misconduct for which they may have been responsible. On the contrary, instead of obtaining redress in a fair and balanced debate, you have ended up being blamed for two high-profile political prisoners and a discredited judicial system, and with a reputation for inflexibility and inhumaneness.

Rightly or wrongly, you now appear to have been motivated by a desire for personal revenge rather than acting as guarantor of justice and national harmony. Furthermore, having the editors of a popular newspaper imprisoned is not the way to keep the peace. On the contrary, by polarising and swelling the ranks of your opponents, your ill-considered attack on Haatuf has just served the cause of division and anger. In short, this is not how Reporters Without Borders sees freedom of expression.

The time has come to heal the wounds. The authorities must do two things. Firstly, they must free Haatuf’s journalists and employees. And secondly, they must begin a frank and constructive dialogue with the press. While, regardless of their political views, Somaliland’s journalists must come up with new and original ideas to win the confidence of the authorities. This is the only way that a degree of calm will be restored, that the press will be able to work freely and without hindrance, and that the government will be able to claim to have guaranteed one of the basic principles of democracy in a geopolitical environment in which war cries have tended to dominate for decades.

Somaliland’s independent journalists today feel they have entered a period of defiance, hostility, vengeance, suffering and threats, and the only ones to benefit are those who would like to shake the edifice that has been built since 1991. Reporters Without Borders hopes you will be open to these arguments and that you will be able to take the appropriate measures.

Respectfully,

Robert Ménard
Secretary-General



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