Somali media watchdog calls for the release of journalist Oldon

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Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS) is gravely concerned by unfounded and unjustified charges brought by Somaliland prosecutor before the Hargeisa-based Marodi Jeh Regional Court against journalist and social media activist Abdimalik Muse Oldon who was arrested on April 17, 2019 over his critical reporting and social media posts.

According to the charge sheet and lawyer Mubarik Abdi Ismail who represents Oldon, the state prosecutor brought three charges as such: Shaming the management of Abaarso School and its students via a January, 2019 article claiming that the school teaches sex education; Spreading false allegations against Somaliland and calling the Somaliland leadership a dictatorship state in a 7 February, 2019 Facebook post and; Spreading propaganda against Abaarso School by writing that the school teaches students homosexuality in January 2019.  The charge sheet claims Oldon’s posts and article threatened the security of Somaliland.

On Wednesday 19 June, 2019, the Court refused a preliminary objection brought by journalist Oldon’s defending lawyers opposing the legality of the charges and that two of three charges brought lacked evidences required by the court. The judges however decided to proceed with the hearing and scheduled Wednesday June 25th, 2019 to hold its next session under the influence of the state.

On Wednesday 25 June, 2019, the state prosecutors brought three parents as witnesses from Abaarso School who purportedly claimed that their school was defamed by the journalist after writing an article which criticized the school’s behavior. This is in addition to a fourth witness who is an officer working at the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) and presented screenshots of journalist Oldon’s Facebook posts deemed critical to Somaliland’s leadership.

“The judges did not listen to the defending lawyers in their preliminary objection and instead favored the prosecutors. It clear this court is influenced by the state and will not provide Oldon a fair trial,” lawyer Mubarik Abdi Ismail who represents Oldon told SJS. “My client Oldon remains in jail illegally. He is arrested because of his independent views as a journalist.”

SJS has learnt that officers from CID forced the management of Abaarso School to be part of the case against Oldon who was arrested on April 17 from Bura’o town over his critical reporting.

A journalist who witnessed the two court sessions told SJS that the CID officer called ‘Abdi’ in charge of investigating Oldon’s case presented a letter purportedly written and signed by the school’s management. Though the authenticity of the letter was not verified, however two of the defending lawyers noted that they believe the police used intimidation to get the letter signed by the school management.

SJS calls Marodi Jeh court judges to drop all the charges against Oldon and release him unconditionally.

“Journalists should not be detained and taken to court for only writing critically against the state,” SJS Secretary General, Abdalle Ahmed Mumin said “The freedom of the press is enshrined in Somaliland Constitution and authorities should respect the freedom of the press and stop the continued violations by the Somaliland authority.”

The freedoms of press and that of the journalists in Somaliland are growingly declining as authorities arrested 28 journalists in 2018, an indication of a worrying trend of restricting the journalists’ rights to freedom of the press.

“Somaliland should not use criminal laws to threaten and silence the work of independent media.

On 24 June, 2019, Somaliland’s Ministry of information issued a decree ordering three major local cable television providers to delist Horyaal TV, Eryal TV and the Somali National Television (SNTV) from their channels in a bit to sanction the viewers of the TV stations. On June 18, 2019, Somaliland authorities indefinitely shut down the offices of Horyaal TV and Eryal TV in Hargeisa which until today remain closed.

 

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