Reporters Without Borders condemned the heavy prison sentences passed yesterday by the regional court of Hargeisa, the capital of the northern breakaway state of Somaliland, on the publisher of the privately-owned daily Haatuf and three of its journalists for allegedly defaming the government, the president and his family.
“The Haatuf case has been marked throughout by procedural irregularities and the use by the government of disproportionate resources to attack a newspaper, and has concluded with sentences that are more than extreme, ones that have sullied the history of press freedom in Somaliland,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“The president must now keep his promise and quickly obtain the release of the imprisoned journalists and a return to normal publication by Haatuf,” the organisation added.
At yesterday’s hearing, held exceptionally inside a police training centre in Mandera (60 km northeast of Hargeisa), the court sentenced Haatuf publisher Yusuf Abdi Gabobe to two years in prison for "obstruction".
The newspaper’s editor, Ali Abdi Dini, and its correspondent in the northwestern Awdal region, Mohamed Omar Sheikh Ibrahim, were sentenced to two years and five months in prison, as was a fourth journalist, Ibrahim Mohamed Rashid Farah, who was tried in absentia, for “reporting false information about the government, discrediting the president and his family and creating inter-communal tension.” The court also suspended Haatuf’s licence.
After meeting with the Somaliland Journalists Association (SOLJA), Somaliland President Dahir Riyale Kahin said on 21 February that he was ready to pardon Haatuf’s journalists if they were convicted. Despite the court order suspending its licence, Haatuf appeared as usual today.
Gabobe and Dini were arrested during a police raid on the newspaper on 2 January. Initially held at Hargeisa police headquarters, they were transferred at the start of February to Mandera prison. Sheik was arrested at his home on 14 January, taken to Hargeisa and then also transferred to Mandera prison.
The prosecution was brought over a series of articles in November and in January about alleged favouritism in government appointments and the use of official vehicles for personal purposes. The four journalists were convicted under Somalia’s 1962 criminal code although its media laws were rendered obsolete by the adoption of new legislation in 2004. However, the court refused to try the journalists on the basis of the latest legislation.