MOGADISHU, Somalia, 19 January, 2020 – Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS) calls for Somaliland authorities to quash the 21 months jail sentence and the fines against journalist Abdirahman Mohamed Hiddig, Eryal TV reporter in Erigavo, Sanaag region following a facebook post deemed critical to a senior government official.
On Wednesday 15 January, the Erigavo District Court sentenced 21 months in jail, six million Somaliland Shilling (US$600) fine and US$300 restitution on journalist Hiddig after he was arrested on the same day, according to journalist Hiddig and two colleagues who spoke to SJS.
Police first arrested journalist Hiddig on 25 December 2019 for a Facebook post which purportedly quoted Mohamed Abdirahman Liban, the deputy manager of Somaliland’s National Printing House as saying that he opposed to local efforts attempting to end recent rival clans hostility in El-Afweyn town in Sanaag region. After 10 days in police custody, the journalist was, however released on bond approved by the Sanaag Regional Court on 4 January, 2020.
“When the police re-arrested me, I was told that the plaintiff who is the deputy manager of National Printing House filed a new case at the District Court. I was sentenced without a lawyer,” journalist Hiddig told SJS.
The journalist who shared a screenshot showing the critical Facebook post has said he was ordered to delete it from his timeline.
Local journalists also told SJS that the plaintiff Mr. Liban has preferred Erigavo District Court over the Regional Court for personal favours and for that reason he re-filed the case against journalist Hiddig. Journalist also told SJS that he had a personal vendetta with the District Court chief judge over previous reporting.
Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS) is worried about the increasing number of cases where local courts are used for suppressing journalists and intimidating media houses in Somaliland.
“We condemn this unfair jail term and cash fines imposed on journalist Abdirahman Mohamed Hiddig in Erigavo. We call for his immediate release and these charges be quashed without any condition,” Abdalle Ahmed Mumin, Secretary General of Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS) said.
Separately, on Monday 13 January, Puntland police in Galkayo North briefly detained Said Abdullahi Kulmiye (Said Nadaara), editor and founder of Kasmaal Media, an online news platform for reporting insecurity in Galkayo. Said Nadaara told SJS that he was released on bond on the night of 13 January but was summoned for questioning the following by Mudug Police Commissioner, Jama Mohamed Ahmed (known as Sandaqad) who also commands the joint police operation in the region.
“The police were angry about my report which revealed civilians looted during night time in Galkayo. The police commissioner ordered me to retract the report which is still online and I refused,” Said Nadaara who was released on that morning told SJS.
Meanwhile, violations against press freedom including obstruction of access to information and restrictions targeting journalists has seen an increase in the past two weeks in the southern part of the country. On Thursday 16 January, a group of journalists were barred from covering South West State (SWS) Presidential House function in Baidoa after an order to deny access was given by a senior communications officer at the President’s Office, according to journalists who spoke to SJS.
The journalists also said they could not independently cover issues of public interest including security related coverage and those of government critics.