Somaliland - YUSUF ABDI GABOBE, Haatuf Media Network

Yusuf Abdi Gabobe is the Editor-in-Chief of Haatuf Media Network (HMN) a cooperative which publishes 3 independent newspapers in Hargeysa, Somaliland: 1. Haatuf, 2. Somaliland Times and 3. Haatef Al-Arabi.

"On January 2, 2007, 20 armed policemen stormed into HMN’s headquarters. After searching and ransacking our offices, the police detained me and my colleague Ali Abdi Dini, the editor of our Somali language daily newspaper Haatuf without an arrest or search warrant.

Ali and I were taken to the head office of the Somaliland Criminal Investigation Department (CID). The head of the CID, Suleiman Mussa, told us that we have been arrested for publishing an article insulting the Somaliland President Dahir Rayale and his wife Huda Barkhad. He produced a copy of Haatuf’s January 2 edition pointing at a headline story on allegations of corruption and nepotism practiced by the president and his spouse. Seven days later Ali (Haatuf’s editor) and I were initially charged with insulting the president and his wife and inciting public disorder.

On January 11, Ali and I appeared before the Hargeysa regional court. This time the charges were not only different but also brought against Mohamed-Rashid Farah, the author of the story which was part of a series of articles exposing corruption within President Rayale’s household. Mohamed-Rashid was not at court as he went into hiding and was later relocated to ensure his personal safety with the assistance of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network and Front Line, Dublin.

On January 14, 2007 Mohamed Omar Sheikh, our correspondent in Borama (Awdal region) was also arrested. Two days later he was transferred to the Koodbuur Police Station in Hargeysa. He was detained in connection with an article that he wrote about marine environmental problems caused by large fishing trawlers at the western coast of Somaliland.

On February 4, 2007, Ali Abdi, Mohamed Sheikh and I were transferred to the maximum security prison at Mandera. Our imprisonment triggered a tremendous public support for Haatuf and a backlash against president Rayale’s government. Hundreds of people swarmed around the regional court building when the hearing started on Jan 11. The government was worried that conducting further hearings in Hargeysa would instigate people taking to the streets in protest against the trial.

On January 13, regional court judge Faysal Abdillahi turned down our appeal to be prosecuted under Somaliland’s press law and not the old penal code which is linked to the 1960 constitution of the Somali Republic contradicting Somaliland’s current constitution. According to the Somaliland press law which was adopted in 2004, media offences should be dealt with in accordance with the civil law. It doesn’t provide for the imprisonment of journalists in libel cases.

On February 24, the Supreme Court rejected our appeal to be prosecuted under the Somaliland press law. The regional court held its first session at Mandera on February 28, with no lawyers to defend us. We were sentenced to prison terms of two years and two years and six months. The Haatuf newspaper was banned indefinitely and fined $750. Remembering an advice given to me by Natacha O’Brien during a workshop for human rights defenders in Uganda back in November 2006, one of the first things I did, following our arrest, was to slip a message to the head of the European Commission’s office in Hargeysa. He was the first representative of the international community to visit us in our CID cell and the Mandera prison as well.

Frustrated with Rayale’s repeated failure to respect his words, a high EC delegation arrived in Hargeysa in the early morning of March 29, 2007. Apparently Rayale promised them that we would be freed ahead of their arrival. However when they came to know at the airport that we were still behind bars, the EC delegation went straight from the airport to Mandera prison. We met with them for 30 minutes discussing how we were tried and treated while in prison.

In the meantime an officer from the Custodial Corps brought a decree document issued by President Dahir Rayale pardoning us from the prison terms in spite of the fact that we already appealed our sentences right after the judgment on March 4, 2007. We were released from Mandera around noon, March 29, 2007."