On 13th of August, Armed forces stormed the station of Horseed Media in the coastal town of Bosaso, arresting the director Abdifatah Jama and seven other staff members.
The arrest of the Director came after the radio carried an interview of an Islamist rebel leader, whose forces are fighting the Puntland government. The Puntland authorities accused Abdifatah of broadcasting interviews of what they called a terrorist who is against their administration.
The other staff members were soon released, but Jama was convicted and sentenced the next day under suspicious circumstances.
On 14th of August, Abdifatah Jama was brought to the Bosaso district court, after less than twenty minutes he was sentenced to six years in prison on charges related to an interview with Islamic rebel leader Sheikh Mohamed Said Atom.
The court proceedings against Jama, violated basic standards of fairness. The court issued its ruling just ten hours after Jama’s detention and denied Jama any access to a lawyer.
I did not commit any crime as journalists is my responsibility to report objectively and interview all sides said Abdifatah Jama during the hastily organized hearing by the court in Bosaso.
The prosecution presented no evidence to the court, other than two police officers as witnesses. They claimed that Abdifatah Jama was the one behind the interview with the rebel leader.
“it is ridiculous to arrest a journalist for an interview we believe this is a timely orchestrated move by the Puntland government to crack down on the independent media in Puntland” Said Mahad Musse Ahmed the head of Horseed Media.
“during the proceeding of the court, the Police chief of Bosaso Col.Osman Afdlaw arrived the courtroom and privately addressed the presiding judge Farah Hassan Ismail it was extremely odd for a police chief to disrupt an ongoing hearing” Says one journalists who was present in the courtroom.
“after the brief chat between the Police chief and judge Jama was sentenced to 6 years in prison and 500 US dollars fine said one of the independent journalist present at the hearing.
On the same day (14th of August), the lawyers representing Jama and Horseed Media took the case to the appeal court in Bosaso, in search for the justice that the defendant was denied in the district court.
According to the Puntland’s constitution the appeal court can start hearing cases within 5 days of the sentencing by the district court. It took two weeks the appeal court to start hearing the case. This was due to extreme pressure from the government to delay the appeal case.
Injustice at it’s peak in Puntland
Meanwhile Jama was kept in Bosaso county jail sharing space with convicted criminals and murders.
“….the case of Abdifatah Jama is everything but ordinary case, it is widely believed that other forces are undermining Jama’s appeal caseâ€¦â€ said the management of Horseed Media in a statement published on the internet.
Many people in Puntland believe that the President of Puntland Abdirahman Mohamed Farole, is directly involved with this case.
Just two months before Jama’s arrest, the President of Puntland Abdirahman Farole complained to the owners of Horseed Media, about what he called sensitive reporting of the media house.
On 11th of May 2010, President Farole met with the head of Horseed Media Mahad Musse Ahmed in Bosaso, in that meeting the President accused Abdifatah Jama, Horseed Media director in Bosaso, of publishing articles on Puntland newspapers in 2003-2004, alleging wide spread corruption within the ministry of finance. At that time the Minister of Finance was the current President of Puntland Abdirahman Mohamed Farole.
The Appeal case!
Finally on 27th of August, the appeal court judge Sheikh Nur Mohamed set the hearing date on 1st of September, two weeks after the sentencing of Jama by the Bosaso district court.
On 1st of September, the prosecution requested to postpone the appeal hearing until 4th of September, they said they needed more time to prepare their case, but it seemed that the prosecution were doing their best to use any time they can get, to keep Jama in prison. The judge once again gave into the demand of the prosecution.
Last Saturday (4th of September), the appeal court convened, it was the first time the defense was allowed to present their case, they listed number of violations committed by the prosecution and police in the case of Abdifatah Jama. (Some of the main points used by the defense lawyers were).
1-Mr.Jama never had the chance to get a lawyer
2-The court did not provide Jama any legal support
3-The defendant never committed a crime according to the constitution which safeguards the freedom of the press.
4-The witnesses used by the prosecution for their case were two members of the same forces that illegally arrested Jama without any court order.
5-The defendant was intimidated and even slapped by the police while in their custody, trying to force him to confess that he was a member of Al Shabab, an islamist rebel group. Which the defendant bravely refused.
The failure of the legal system and The triumph of tyranny !
The defense’s case exceeded the expectations of many people present in the courtroom, which embarrassed the prosecution who didn’t even present any new evidence to the court, after almost three weeks of deliberately delaying the appeal court.
“We request the court to release Jama from the shackles that he is wrongfully kept in, for almost a month said the defense team, adding Jama has health issues and he is sharing space with convicted criminals, he can not get enough sleep due to the 24 hours lights-on policy in the prison..”
No one in the courtroom was astonished when the appeal court judge, told the prosecution that they had no case, but amazingly the judge said, he was giving the prosecution again two days to present more evidence, if not, Abdifatah Jama will be released from jail.
That was three days ago, on Saturday the 4th.
On Tuesday 7th of September, the appeal court judge went on a vacation, and did not attend his office nor any hearing took place, the only thing certain was Abdifatah Jama will spend the rest of the holy month of Ramadan in jail, far from his wife and children.
This is a clear testimony to the state of media censorship in Puntland, today.
Abdifatah Jama, Horseed Media director was illegally arrested and kept in prison deliberately for defending the core value of any free nation, the freedom of expression and press.