Reporters Without Borders condemns the jail terms that a Mogadishu regional court passed today on Shabelle Media Network chairman Abdiimalik Yusuf and one his journalists, Radio Shabelle reporter Bashir Hashir, in connection with the interview of an alleged rape victim.
At the end of a three-hour trial, Hashir was given six months in prison for defaming the alleged rapists and Yusuf was sentenced to a year in prison for insulting state institutions.
“This travesty of a trial ending in harsh and disproportionate sentences has the hallmarks of an attempt to intimidate the media,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It points to undue government influence on the judicial system, above all from the powerful interior minister, and a bias against Radio Shabelle and independent media in general.
“There are grounds for real concern when a journalist is convicted of defamation without any attempt being undertaken to establish the facts of the matter reported. At the same time, the charges on which Yusuf was finally convicted appear unrelated to the case on trial.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “If Somalia really wants to become a safe country that respects the rule of law, serious undertakings must be given to end political meddling in matters concerning the justice system and the media.”
Today’s trial was in connection with an interview by Hashir in which a young woman, also a journalist, reported having been raped by two state radio journalists. She received a six-month suspended jail sentence at the end of the same trial.
After passing sentence, the court offered Yusuf and Hashir the possibility of paying a fine of one US dollar for every day for their sentence – 365 dollars for Yusuf and 182 dollars for Hashir – to avoid serving jail time.
The two men had just been released after payment of the fines as this press release was being written.
No attempt was made during this morning’s trial to establish whether or not the young woman was raped and, if so, who the perpetrators were. The police never questioned or arrested the two men she accused in the interview. Arrested several times in connection with this case on various grounds that were never supported, Yusuf was finally convicted on a charge that had absolutely nothing to do with the interview. It could concern an article which was posted on the Radio Shabelle website after a 26 October raid on the station and which blamed the interior minister for the seizure of the station’s archives.
Radio Shabelle resumed broadcasting on 30 November after being forced off the air for a month. But it still lacks the official permit that the information ministry is now supposed to issue, and so its legal status continues to be precarious.