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Somaliland: Conviction of journalists is a miscarriage of justice

Article 19

4 July 2013

*Update: Journalists Abdullahi and Jama were released on appeal on 7 July 2013*

ARTICLE 19 is saddened by the conviction of two journalists working at Hubaal newspaper, Hassan Hussein Abdullahi and Mohamed Ahmed Jama, for falsification, publication of false news and defamation. ARTICLE 19 calls for the journalists to be released on appeal.

“The jail terms given to Abdullahi and Jama are harsh and should be rescinded. It is only in the last week that the African Union’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, Commissioner Pansy Tlakula began a campaign to decriminalise defamation in the East and Horn of Africa,” said Henry Maina, ARTICLE 19 East Africa Director.

“Somaliland should be encouraged to take part in this campaign and repeal its criminal defamation laws since such harsh laws are often used to punish people for legitimate criticism of powerful people rather than protecting reputations,” added Maina.

The journalists were accused on the basis of an article published in issue 147 of Hubaal newspaper on 21 January 2013, alleging that Ethiopian diplomatic staff based in Hargeisa were involved in using their diplomatic privileges to smuggle illicit drugs. They were also accused of publishing false news in issue 262 of 10 June 2013 where they said that Somaliland President Ahmed Mahmud Silanyo is in poor health and has relinquished his duties to the state minister for presidency.

Apart from their jail sentences, Abdullahi and Jama were fined US$300 and US$150 respectively. Presiding Judge Osman Ibrahim Dahir also ruled that Hubaal newspaper should remain closed until the two journalists finish their jail terms and pay their fines. Their lawyers and the Somaliland Journalists Association (SOLJA) have said they will appeal.

ARTICLE 19 has consistently advocated for criminal defamation laws to be repealed since they fail to strike the appropriate balance between the right to freedom of expression and the right to a reputation.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the appeal court to unconditionally release the journalists and on the Somaliland government to stop harassing media workers. It should also finalise amending the Somaliland Media Law 27/2004 and specifically repeal provisions on criminal defamation, replacing them with proportionate civil remedies where necessary.


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