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Jailed Somaliland journalist ‘moved’ to notorious prison

Mr. Dirir becomes the first Somaliland journalist to be moved to that jail which consists of underground dark cells and windowless rooms and holds hundreds of high profile criminals and convicted terrorists.

By Jamal Ibrahim,

HARGEISA – The breakaway northern Somalia state of Somaliland has transferred a journalist it sentenced to 18 months in jail on charges of criminal defamation and publishing false news to a notorious prison holding high-profile criminals, his wife, journalists say.

Mohamed Aden Dirir, an online journalist who has been in custody since September 16 was convicted and sentenced by a regional court in Hargeisa, Somaliland’s capital over a report in which he accused a group of private schools in Hargeisa of misconduct and corruption.

However, Fatima Salah, the journalist’s wife told Alleastafrica that police has transferred her husband from the central prison to the notorious Mandera prison outside the capital on October 12, becoming the first Somaliland journalist to be moved to that jail.

“We also don’t know his current health situation. As a family our living conditions have have deteriorated since he was arrested because he was the only breadwinner we had.” the mother of four said of 30-years old husband..

The prison, which consists of underground dark cells and windowless rooms and holds hundreds of high profile criminals and convicted terrorists.

Local human rights activists who condemned the transfer of the journalist into the notorious prison, built in 1980s by Somalia’s late former president Mohamed Siad Barre to jail political dissents have expressed worries over the journalist’s well-being, likening life in the prison’s situation  as virtually a death sentence..

Meanwhile, several journalists in Somaliland who spoke to Alleastafrica on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal by authorities have calso onfirmed that the journalist is currently being held in the notorious prison.

The reason behind Mr. Dirir’s transfer remains unclear. However, one journalist suggested that he might have been transferred to prevent him from making communications with the outside world over fears that he could have documented ‘systematic torture’ cases against inmates which is a common practice in the prison. In the new prison, he’d be held in a small cell in a solitary confinement.

Somaliland authorities declined comment on the matter when reached by Alleastafrica.

Known for his critical reporting against corruption by officials in Somaliland, Mr. Dirir, who was arrested for the second time this year had several run-ins with local authorities who have subsequently arrested and released him after prosecutors failed to present evidence against his charges.

Local and international media watchdogs have since condemned  the one-day trial of the journalist, questioning the manner in which the trial was carried out.

“Mohamed Adan Dirir should never have been prosecuted in the first place and the manner in which this trial was carried out is unjust,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Angela Quintal in New York after the journalist’s trial.

“Authorities should overturn the journalist’s conviction on appeal and release Mohamed immediately.”

Harassment and intimidation against journalists have been a major concern for journalists based in Somaliland who have also seen waves of arrests and intimidation by local authorities in recent years.

For years, there has been a tense relationship between the government and independent media. Government officials often accuse journalists of supporting and promoting anti-government sentiment, leading to the arrests of dozens of journalists in recent years.

Rights groups and media watchdogs have repeatedly urged Somaliland to ensure that independent media outlets are not harassed, and to allow journalists to practice their profession without fear of retaliation.

(Additional reporting and editing by Judy Maina, in Nairobi, Kenya)

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