Military court releases journalist after months in Intelligence detention
MOGADISHU, Somalia - A Somali journalist who has been under the detention camp run by the National Intelligence Security Agency [NISA] appeared for the first time in a military court on Monday where he was formally charged with murder and was released on Wednesday after being found innocent.
Abdiwahab Mohamed Abuuja, a Mogadishu-based journalist, was first arrested on March 7 by NISA agents but had not been produced before the court before, triggering condemnations from civil rights groups and opposition leaders, who accuse the government of scuttling freedoms of expression and media.
At a military court on Monday, Abuuja was not given the right to access his legal team, but prosecutors pressed murder charges against him. According to the prosecution, Abuuja is an Al-Shabaab operative and is linked to the death of a woman in an attack that happened in 2019.
Critics argued that the prosecution team did not have "tangible" evidence to prosecute the case, with some arguing that witness accounts were contradictory. However, the trial was concluded on Monday and the journalist will know his fate in the next sitting.
And on Wednesday, Abuuja's stint at the hands of his detractors ended after the military court ruled in his favor, ending five months of agony and anxiety among the media fraternity and his family. The court said the prosecution did not table concrete evidence to warrant a conviction.
Several rights groups had condemned his trial, arguing that NISA "fabricated" the charges against the scribe. The Federation of Somali Journalists had asked the military court to ensure justice is served for the journalist, adding that it is confident that he will be exonerated.
"The Somali military court has on Monday concluded the trial of journalist Mohamed Abdiwahab Abuja, and it is expected that the court will announce its verdict in the next hearing. FESOJ_SOMALIA wishes justice for the long-imprisoned journalist," it said in a tweet.
Dahir Mohamed Ali, who is the journalist's attorney, said on Monday that he was not served with particulars of charges, adding that his team was not allowed to make submissions. He said that the military court did not have the mandate to try his client.
Contrary to the claims by the Ministry of Information, Amnesty International said, Abuja’s father, his lawyer and media advocates said they believe the journalist was arrested over an editorial piece criticizing security forces in Mogadishu that he published on 26 February 2020.
In the editorial piece, which was reviewed by Amnesty International, the journalist criticizes the conduct of security forces in Mogadishu and raises questions over security forces’ excessive use of force on the people in the city, the global rights group organization said.
His father also said he believes that his son is being unfairly targeted because he is from a minority clan and does not have influential politicians who can advocate for him. He asked the Somalia government to let go of the journalist, adding that his freedom was fundamental.
Cases of intimidation, harassment, abduction, torture, and murder of the journalist are common in Somalia, with Amnesty International blaming both the FGS and the Al-Shabaab. Last month, a Banadir court convicted Abdiaziz Ahmed Gurbiye, a GoobJoog editor, condemning him to six months imprisonment, but he was released following an outcry from rights groups and the opposition.
The government had in May promised to expunge the Penal Code which criminalized the dissemination of news, but despite assurance by President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, nothing substantive has been done. Somalia is one of the countries where it's quite tough for media due to persistent persecution.