Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Somalia: Six-year jail sentence against media director condemned by journalists union

Source: International Freedom of Expression eXchange and National Union of Somali Journalists Photo: NUSOJ

The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) condemns in the strongest terms possible the six-year jail sentence handed down on 14 August 2010 to Abdifatah Jama Mire, director of Horseed Media, by the Puntland authorities, terming it "outrageous and the harshest punishment" given to a journalist in recent times in the semi-autonomous region of Somalia.

"Today press freedom was buried in broad daylight in Puntland and indeed it is a black day for independent journalism in Puntland and all across Somalia," said Omar Faruk Osman, NUSOJ Secretary General, adding: "Abdifatah Jama Mire and Radio Horseed committed no single crime that justifies this harsh and unacceptable verdict".

The police commissioner in charge of the Bari region, Colonel Abdisalam Aflaw, arrested Abdifatah and seven other media workers from the radio station on 13 August. The media workers were later released, but the director remained in custody.

The arrest of the director comes after the radio station carried an interview, also on 13 August, of the rebel leader, Mohamed Said Atom, an Islamist commander whose forces are fighting the Puntland administration. The Puntland administration accused Abdifatah of broadcasting interviews of people who are against the administration.

On the morning of 14 August, Abdifatah was brought to the First–Level Court of Bossasso without prior notice. The Puntland prosecutor, Mohamud Mohamed Yusuf (Shimbir), charged him with "interviewing and broadcasting views of people who are fighting the government". The prosecutor further asked the court to sentence the director to three years in jail.

Journalists who were present at the court told NUSOJ that neither the prosecutor nor the police brought any evidences to substantiate their allegations, nor did they allow the journalist to get a lawyer to defend himself, despite a request by the management of Horseed Media for a lawyer for the journalist. Surprisingly, the chair of the first level court, judge Farah Hassan Ismail, sentenced Abdifatah to six years in jail plus a US$500 fine. The journalist was found guilty of breaching the Anti-terror law in Puntland.

"Undoubtedly this is a politicised and reprehensible judgment that is meant to send a strong message of how Puntland authorities are prejudiced towards independent journalism and diversity of opinion", declared Omar Faruk. "Our colleague broke no law and we will defend him completely and with everything we have".

The arrest, illegal detention and the subsequent sentence for imprisonment and fine are incongruous with Somalia's Transitional Federal Charter, the Puntland Constitution and the internationally agreed standards of freedom of expression.

"The Puntland Administration seems to be waging an all-out war against free press. We call on progressive civil society and the international community to condemn this blatant violation and put pressure on Puntland to withdraw this disgraceful decision and free Abdifatah Jama Mire in order to carry out his noble services to the people," Omar Faruk added.

In a separate development on 10 August, the Puntland Ministry of Information, Telecommunication and Culture issued a letter to Nuh Muse Birjeb who works for the VOA Somali Service and Universal TV, ordering him to suspend his work. The letter did not give a reason behind the suspension. Journalists in Puntland, however, believe the decision to suspend Nuh Muse came from the top leadership of the administration, including the Puntland presidency. Journalists believe Nuh Muse has been enduring a series of repressive actions and intimidation tactics originated by senior Puntland officials who, according to the journalists, could not tolerate his news reports, though it is not clear where the reports that instigated the suspension were broadcast.