Below is the full statement released tonight by the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Somaliland Attorney General Hasan Ahmed Hasan should immediately drop his appeal of a court's acquittal of two journalists charged with publishing false news and operating an unlicensed newspaper, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
An appeals court in Hargeisa, the capital of the semi-autonomous republic, is expected to consider the case on January 23, Guleid Ahmed Jama, chairman of the local advocacy group Human Rights Center, said in a statement emailed to CPJ. The Hargeisa Regional Court on November 12, 2016, acquitted Abdirashid Nur Ways and Said Khadar Abdilahi, the chairman and editor of the shuttered Hubsad newspaper, respectively, of charges of publishing false news and running an unlicensed publication.
"Abdirashid Nur Ways and Said Khadar Abdilahi should never have faced criminal charges in the first place," said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Angela Quintal. "Pursuing journalists after a court has exonerated them lays bare the government's intention to intimidate the press."
Guleid told CPJ that the charge of publishing false news stemmed from a Hubsad article alleging irregularities in the sale of state-owned land. The lower court also acquitted Abdirashid and Said of the charge of operating an unlicensed newspaper, but upheld the newspaper's suspension until it could complete the licensing process. The attorney general is petitioning an appeals court to overturn both acquittals and to jail both journalists. Guleid previously told CPJ that the journalists could face "years" in prison if convicted, saying that Somaliland's laws are unclear about potential penalties.
CPJ attempted to call the attorney general several times, but the calls did not go through, and he did not reply to text messages requesting comment. Somaliland Information Minister Osman Abdullahi Sahardid likewise did not respond to CPJ's phone calls and text messages requesting comment.