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Somalia's attorney general investigates Somali Journalists Syndicate amidst legal battle


Tuesday April 16, 2024

 


FILE - Sulayman Mohamoud, Somalia's Attorney General

MOGADISHU, Somalia — The Somali Attorney General's Office has initiated an investigation into the Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS), a move that has sparked concerns about media freedom and potential governmental overreach. At the heart of the probe are serious allegations that the SJS employed counterfeit licenses to manage its business accounts, a revelation that has led to the Banadir Regional Court freezing its financial assets.

The inquiry addresses potential criminal activities connected to the SJS, invoking violations cited under Articles 372, 378, and 452/3 of the Somali Penal Code, alongside Articles 8, 16, and 26 of the 2020 Press Law. Based on these allegations, the court has enacted orders for the seizure and restriction of the syndicate's bank accounts, as detailed in a report by the Attorney General's Office.

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The National Prosecutor's Office has indicated that once the ongoing investigation is concluded, formal charges will be filed in accordance with Article 71 of the XHCS (Somali Criminal Procedure Code). The development is part of a broader legal battle that the SJS initiated in September 2023 against certain officials of the Somali Federal Government. The SJS has accused these officials of human rights violations and war crimes.

The SJS, represented by international legal counsel, has accused the government of retaliating against its legal actions with these financial investigations. Abdalle Ahmed Mumin, the SJS's secretary-general, expressed dismay over the handling of their bank accounts, claiming a lack of communication from the government: "We received a notification of the freeze, but no specific allegations or explanations have been provided to us, neither in writing nor verbally."

Despite the mounting challenges, the SJS says it remains committed to defending press freedom in Somalia. "We stand as an unwavering beacon of truth and accountability," stated Mohamed Ibrahim, President of SJS, underscoring their intention to continue operations and legal efforts.

This escalating confrontation between the SJS and the Somali government has raised significant concerns among international observers about the state of press freedom in Somalia. The United Nations Human Rights Council is currently reviewing a separate complaint filed by the SJS against the Somali government, which could further internationalize this dispute.

Last February, Abdalle Ahmed Mumin was unexpectedly released from jail, mere hours after receiving a two-month prison sentence on security charges. Mumin's arrest in October 2022 followed a government crackdown on media outlets accused of propagating messages for the Islamist militant group al-Shabab. Despite the court's decision, he was freed immediately upon arrival at Mogadishu central prison, with officials citing that he had already served his time during pre-trial detention.

Mumin denounced the court's ruling as a "pure travesty of justice" and planned to appeal. His case drew international attention, with organizations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Press Institute urging Somali authorities to drop the charges.

Mumin has since left Somalia and is a member of the University of York's Centre of Human Rights Research Fellow programme through Amnesty International.

Legal experts warn that the measures taken against the SJS could have far-reaching implications for media freedom in Somalia. "The government's response seems to go beyond a mere investigation into financial misconduct; it hints at a strategy of intimidation and suppression of dissenting voices," noted one legal analyst, who chose to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the issue.

As the legal proceedings unfold, both the international community and local stakeholders are watching closely, hoping for a resolution that upholds the principles of justice and freedom of expression. The SJS plans to release a detailed report soon, which it claims will clarify the situation and outline its next steps in this ongoing legal and media battle.



 





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