10th November 2015 -Journalists are arrested and sometimes prosecuted on the basis of the Penal Code. “Defamation and publication or circulation of false and exaggerated or tendentious news capable of disturbing public order” include the provisions in the Penal Code which are applied in criminal prosecutions against journalists. In one hand, journalists and human rights defenders advocate for decriminalization of media and implementation of Somaliland Press Law. In the other hand, the government authorities insist the continuation of applying the Penal Code and criminalization responses.
To bring together two opposing arguments in one table to engage in a calm and stable dialogue will help to sort out long standing controversy that flaws Somaliland’s human rights record. Human Rights Centre organized dialogue on criminalization of media in Hargeisa on 8th to 9th November. The dialogue brought together relevant key stakeholders in the area of freedom of expression including journalists, lawyers, and prosecutors, students of journalism and law and academics.
Experts presented in-depth legal, factual and contextual analysis. Both the domestic laws and policies and the international good practices have been discussed.
Mohamoud Hussein Farah, the dean of School of Law, University of Hargeisa, provided legal aspect of criminalization of media. He outlined the importance of freedom of media and expression as enshrined in the constitution of Somaliland and the international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To uphold these principles, he argued, Somaliland shall take decriminalization policy that should to be made effective.
Mohamoud Abdi Jama, chairperson of Somaliland Journalists’ Association (SOLJA) shared with the participants his extensive experience on the negative impact criminalization has on the proper performance of journalism. As an editor who was once prosecuted and sentence by court, he gave examples of how criminal prosecutions are barring journalists to decide without fear of arrests or prosecution. He opted implementation of Somaliland Press Law as a key and vital for improved media in Somaliland.
Other participants argued that the Press Law is incomplete and not sufficient to rule out criminalization. They further contended that unless the Penal Code is repealed or amended, the claim of decriminalization does not have strong legal basis. The ethical and professional dimensions are also pinpointed and discoursed.
Instead of throwing accusations to each other, the participants decided to talk the issue in friendlier manner and to listen each other’s arguments and concerns.
Criminalization of media is a practice that hinders freedom of media and subject media under criminal consequences. Hence decriminalization is imperative for both freedom of media and protection of media from suppression and self-censorship. As a democratic country that has constitution with Bill of Rights, it is a proper and inherently required Somaliland to accept and apply decriminalization policy.
The dialogues, debates and discussion regarding this topic will continue as agreed by the participants who underlined the importance of keeping such dialogue on track to enable parties to understand each other better and to raise awareness.
Students and academics are particularly encouraged to carryout researches and to contribute academically the discussions.
Hana Abdisalaan Mohamed
Deputy Director of Human Rights Centre