FILE PHOTO: Journalist Abdimalik Muse Oldon who is sentenced to 3 and half years in jail on Monday, 8 July, 2019. | Photo credit/ Facebook.
FILE PHOTO: Journalist Abdimalik Muse Oldon who is sentenced to 3 and half years in jail on Monday, 8 July, 2019. | Photo credit/ Facebook.

MOGADISHU, Somalia, 8 July, 2019 – Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS) protests the unfair and politically motivated court decision against journalist Abdimalik Muse Oldon on Monday 8 July, 2019, after a court in Somaliland handed down the journalist three and half years jail term and calls for the Hargeisa-based Marodi Jeh court to retract its decision.

In its hearing today, the Marodi Jeh Regional Court judge sentenced Abdimalik Muse Oldon even though the defending lawyers clearly proved the groundlessness of  the allegations brought to the court against the journalist who was arrested on April 17 over his critical reporting and social media posts deemed to be critical to the state, according to the charge sheet.

Two of Oldon’s lawyers- Mubarik Abdi Ismail and Jamal Hussein Ahmed said they will appeal against the verdict to the Higher Court. Both lawyers said the judgment is an affront to the Somaliland Constitution which guarantees the Freedom of Expression.

“Today is another black day for the freedom of the expression in Somaliland. Journalist Oldon has been sentenced to three and half years despite there is no single plaintiff in the case,” defending lawyer Jamal Hussein Ahmed said. “We shall of course react and appeal against this injustice.”

According to lawyer Mubarik Abdi Ismail, shortly before the court sentence was announced, the defending lawyers presented their case to defend the journalist including repealing the articles from the Penal Code used for the verdict.

“In the beginning of this case, we have clearly mentioned that Oldon’s arrest was illegal. And again today again we could see the judges were not independent. They were under constant pressure and psychologically influenced by the State,” defending lawyer Mubarik adds

Somali Journalists Syndicate has learnt that a state-organized campaign to influence the judges at the court against Journalist Oldon was mobilized. On Sunday night, a group of pro-government supporters including officers from Criminal Investigations Department (CID) purportedly claimed that they were parents from Abaarso School  appeared on state media as they called the Marodi Jeh Court Judges to sentence the journalist with a long jail term.

On 19 June, 2019, the Marodi Jeh Court refused a preliminary objection brought by journalist Oldon’s defending lawyers opposing the legality of the charges and that two of three charges including one mentioning a complaint by Abaarso School brought lacked evidences required by the court. The judges however decided to proceed with the hearing under the influence of the state.

On 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 CID and presented screenshots of journalist Abdimalik Muse Oldon’s Facebook posts deemed critical to Somaliland’s leadership.

 “The court sentence against journalist Abdimalik Muse Oldon is a politically motivated and therefore it is completely unacceptable,” Abdalle Ahmed Mumin, Secretary General of Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS) said “We call authorities in Somaliland to stop criminalizing journalists for only expressing their constitutionally granted freedoms, including freedom of expression and immediately free the journalist.”

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

“Somaliland should not use criminal laws to threaten and silence the work of independent media and we call for the Somaliland court to retract its decision against the journalist” Mr. Mumin added.