Somalia: Journalist sentenced to 18 months in prison for defamation and “fake news”

ARTICLE 19 is concerned by the recent conviction and sentencing of Mohamed Adan Dirir, an editor for the online news portal Horseed News and owner of the news website Saylactoday.

On 8 October 2017, a regional court in Hargeisa, Northern territory of Somaliland, convicted Mohamed Adan Dirir on charges of criminal defamation and publication of “false news”. The charges are based on an article that he published in a local news website that accused a group of private school teachers in Hargeisa of exam-related misconduct and corruption. Despite the trial being conducted in one day without legal representation, the court found Dirir guilty and sentenced him to 18 months imprisonment and a fine of 1 million Somaliland shillings (approx. US$1,735).

“Criminal defamation is unnecessary, excessive and unjustifiable in an open and democratic society, and the law creates a disproportionate limit on freedom of expression. We note that sentence comes after regional courts and other neighbouring jurisdictions have abolished criminal defamation from their laws.” said Henry Maina, Director of ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa.

In 2014 the African Court unanimously found that Burkina Faso violated freedom of expression as guaranteed through Article 9 (of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights(African Charter), Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and Article 66(2) of theRevised Treaty of the Economic Community of West African States (Revised ECOWAS Treaty), through similar provisions.

“The conviction and sentencing of Mohamed Adan Dirir, in a trial that clearly failed to meet international standards, is a big blow to promotion of media freedom in Somalia. It also has a chilling effect on other media houses in Somalia, which will be a stumbling block in ensuring that citizens are informed of all important emerging issues,”  continued Maina.

Somalia has an obligation to respect, promote and protect human rights of journalists. Article 18 of the Provisional Constitution of the Federal Republic of Somalia guarantees all Somali citizens freedom of expression and opinion which includes freedom of the media, through all forms of electronic and web based media.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Government of Somalia to adhere to its obligations under the Provisional Constitution of the Federal Republic of Somalia regarding freedom of expression and fair trial. Finally we call for the quashing of the conviction and the release of Mohamed Adan Dirir.

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