Journalist slapped with six months imprisonment, fined $200 in Somalia
MOGADISHU, Somalia - The resilient quest for media freedoms in Somalia suffered a huge setback on Wednesday after a Banadir court jailed a vocal journalist for six months besides imposing a fine on him, over an alleged offensive post about the country's leadership which he reportedly published on April this year.
Abdiaziz Ahmed Gurbiye, an independent journalist associated with GoobJoog Media Group will now have to part with 5 million Somali shillings [$200] and serve a six-month jail term, despite denying the charges mounted against him by the state department of law led by the country's Attorney General.
The presiding judge, Mohamud Yasin announced the verdict on Article 328 of the Penal Code, which states “publication or circulation of false, exaggerated or tendentious news" but the Court, however, dropped another charge of Article 269 on “insult to a political, administrative or judicial body”.
Immediately after the judgment, the journalist was transferred to the notorious Mogadishu Central Prison, and it's not clear if his legal team will appeal the sentence. In April, authorities accused him of publishing false statements on his Facebook which "undermined" the country's leadership.
According to reports from the prosecution, Abdiaziz was accused of claiming that President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo's team had sneaked out a ventilator from Martini Hospital in Mogadishu and taken it to Villa Somalia. At that time, the country had only one ventilator for the fight against COVID-19.
His sentencing comes barely three months after Farmajo promised to scrap the penal code which criminalizes journalism. The code was ratified in 1964 and has often been dismissed by journalists as obsolete, but the government is yet to drop it from Somalia's laws.
Various local and international rights bodies have condemned his sentencing, terming it a "setback" to press freedoms in Somalia. Somali Journalists Syndicate [SJS] termed the turnout of events as "chilling" and accused the government of targeting independent journalists in the country.
“The court’s six-month jail term and a cash fine against Goobjoog journalist Abdiaziz Gurbiye sends a chilling message to the media community in Somalia. This clearly represents that Somalia's government is at war on the independent press and its intention to silence the journalists through the judiciary,” Abdalla Ahmed Mumin, the Secretary-General SJS said.
“Citizens’ right to free expression is guaranteed under the Somali provisional constitutional and local, regional conventions in which Somalia must observe and we call for his unconditional release.”
Dahir Mohamed Ali, one of his lawyers who was hired by SJS and Somalia Media Association, has since said that his team will appeal the "harsh" sentence, adding that his client was "wrongfully" tried and sentenced by authorities. He did not give a specific timeline for his intended actions.
In a tweet, the Amnesty International, East Africa branch, termed the sentence "politically" instigated, adding that the government of Somalia is out to crack the whip on those perceived as critics. The team dismissed the sentence as "travesty" of Justice and asked the government to release the media man
"The conviction and sentence of journalist Abdiaziz Ahmed Gurbiye in Mogadishu’s Banadir regional court today was a travesty of justice. The case was politically motivated and sends a chilling message to journalists and other critics that authorities do not tolerate dissent," read the tweet.
"We strongly condemn a six-month jail sentence against Goobjoog Editor in Mogadishu by Banadir Regional Court. This is a brutal, outrageous decision, which is a flagrant violation of free expression. We condemn this harsh and unacceptable sentence against independent Journo," added Mohamed Moalimuu, the secretary to the Federation of Somali Journalists.
Abdiaziz is not the first journalist to be subjected to harassment and intimidation by the government this year. Besides several journalists who have either been summoned or detained by the government this year, Voice of America reporter Harun Maruf remains perhaps one of the most notable personalities.
In April, spy agency NISA accused the Washington-based journalist of colluding with Al-Shabaab militants and vowed to have him prosecuted. However, the Fahad Yasin-led team has since gone slow following retribution by local and international actors, who accused the government vilifying the veteran reporter.
A report titled "we live in perpetual fear" which was published by Amnesty International early this year ranked Somalia as one of the most difficult countries for journalists to operate from. Besides persecutions, intimidations, arbitrary arrests, and assassinations by authorities, Al-Shabaab was also named as another main threat to the media.