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Criminal Actions Against The Press Are Unacceptable

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Abdillahi Dhere who works as secretary for the Somaliland House of Elders (Guurti) has given himself the liberty of asking the country’s Attorney General to initiate a criminal investigation of our sister newspaper Haatuf for publishing on September 18, 2006 an article exposing the alleged involvement of the former in a covert campaign to mobilize support for unseating the current chairman of the upper house Suleiman Mahmud Adan.

In a letter he wrote on September 20, 2006 to Attorney General Hussein A. Ghalib, Abdillahi Dhere accused the Somaliland press as a whole of getting into the habit of not attributing the sources of their news information. For reasons known only to him, he copied the letter to the president.

Mr. Ghalib obliged by ordering the Criminal Investigation Department to conduct a formal investigation into the matter and bring prosecution against the person found to be the offender (writer of the article).

But what is of concern here is not that Haatuf will be taken to court or whether there is actually a clear case against the newspaper. What is extremely worrying is the fact that the Attorney General treated what would have essentially been a libel case as a criminal one.

This decision by the government’s top legal expert comes into conflict with the provisions of the press law which have already decriminalized libel case such as defamation.

Before the promulgation of the Somaliland press law in January 2004, the Somaliland government used criminal actions in libel cases involving the press on the basis of the Penal Code (a law originally drawn up by fascist Italian lawyers). Despite the introduction of the new press law that bans criminalization of libel offences committed by the media, the Somaliland government however still seems oblivious to its obligations under the law.

As a legislation passed by both chambers of the parliament and signed into law by the president, the press law prescribes that libel cases should be dealt with in accordance with the civil law. It means that a government official or private citizen, who wants to bring charges against the press for libel, has to file for a civil lawsuit in the competent court of law.

The press is not above the law. Neither the government is. Haatuf is therefore not obliged to appear before the CID. We are not going to be intimidated by immoral thugs like Abdillahi Dhere who mistakenly think that by using their presidential connections they can silence this country’s free press.

But we must tell President Dahir Rayale that the Somaliland independent media, despite its shortcomings, is one of the best things that have happened in this country since a very long time. Haatuf has particularly been playing a role that extended well beyond the traditional sphere of acting as a watch dog, to the promotion of Somaliland internally and externally.

It is a shame that your government still practices the culture of secrecy while your officials tend to be reluctant to offer information where requested. You therefore can not blame the media for your deficiencies.

Source: Somaliland Times

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