Prosecutors in Puntland, the semi-autonomous Somali region, must not appeal to lengthen the prison sentence of journalist Kilwe Adan Farah, and the authorities must desist from harassing or intimidating him and ensure that military courts are not used as a weapon against the media, the Committee to Protect Journalists said.
On March 3, a military court sentenced Kilwe, who runs the Facebook news page Kilwe Media Inc, to three months in prison in spite of what the court described as the prosecution’s lack of evidence for five anti-state and false news charges, according to court documents that CPJ reviewed. The court cited Section 165 of Somalia’s penal code, which gives a judge discretion to impose security measures on persons thought to be dangers to society.
Mustafe Mohamed Jama, the journalist’s lawyer, and Mohamed Dahir Warsame, chairperson of the local press rights group Media Association of Puntland, both of whom spoke with CPJ via messaging app, also confirmed the ruling.
CPJ was unable to determine whether Kilwe was in fact convicted on the five charges.
In an oral statement during the hearing, the military court judge ordered Kilwe, who has been detained since December 27, 2020, to be released on March 6 to account for time served, according to Mustafe and Mohamed. Mustafe told CPJ that the prosecution protested the sentence as insufficient at the hearing and announced its intention to appeal.
“A military court has no business trying a journalist. The fact it proceeded to sentence Kilwe Adan Farah after stating there was a lack of evidence against him sets a very dangerous precedent for the treatment of journalists in Puntland,” said CPJ Sub-Saharan Africa Representative Muthoki Mumo. “Prosecutors must drop any efforts to prolong his detention through an appeal, and allow him to walk free and to do his job without hindrance.”
The five charges were: inciting others to commit an offense; inciting others to disobey the law; publication of false news; damaging official posters; and bringing the nation into contempt, according to Mustafe as well as statements from the Media Association of Puntland and the Mogadishu-based Somali Journalists Syndicate.
Kilwe was arrested after his news outlet reported on protests in Garowe, the capital of Puntland, as CPJ documented. Authorities held him for two weeks at an undisclosed location and prevented his family and legal counsel from visiting him until January 11, when he was transferred to Garowe Central Prison, as CPJ documented.
Officials initially accused Kilwe of murder, but last month prosecutors changed the case against Kilwe, dropping the murder charge and introducing the five new charges, according to the Media Association of Puntland and the Somali Journalists Syndicate.
Jama Deperani, the spokesperson of Puntland’s regional president, did not answer calls from CPJ or respond to a query sent via messaging app. An email sent to Puntland State House was also unanswered. CPJ was unable to immediately locate contact information for the military court in Puntland.