Somaliland: The Role of the Attorney General in Prosecuting Journalists


imageThe duo of hubsaad journalists still facing charges in Somaliland

Somalilandsun-The work of the prosecution office in any country is very important. The office handles enormous tasks in which lives and liberties of human beings are in question. People are prosecuted for crimes their punishments may take away their life, property, liberty and dignity. How the office functions is of paramount importance to the criminal justice system.

Equality before the law, fair hearing and presumption of innocence are fundamental rights enshrined in Somaliland constitution and in the international human rights instruments such the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  

Constitutionally, Somaliland Attorney General, whose functions are set out in the constitution and Acts of Parliament, shall be impartial. The constitution further states that the Office of the Attorney General shall be independent from the executive and legislative branches. Such independence warranted by the constitution is vitalfor Somaliland criminal justice system. 

Unlike many countries, Somaliland solicitor general and the minister of justice are not constituent parts of the Office of the Attorney General. The objective was to distance the prosecution office from the influence of politics and partism. 

A salient feature of any good prosecution office is existence of accountability; accountability for the individual prosecutors and the Attorney General himself so that aggravated individuals are able to complain. Accountability helps to challenge arbitrary and abusive decisions and ascertains realization of objectivity and impartiality. Lack of accountability and procedures that give the people opportunity to complain undermine rule of law and justice. 

According to the UN Guidelines on the Role of Prosecutors “prosecutors….should be made aware of the ideals andethical duties of their office, of the constitutional and statutory protections for the rights of the suspectand the victim, and of human rights and fundamental freedoms recognized by national and internationallaw.Thesfreedoms include respect and protection of freedom of expression. 

In this year, Somaliland Office of Attorney General initiated increasing number of criminal cases against journalists. Currently six journalists are facing criminal trials before the courts. Three newspapers, namely Hubsad, Xog Ogaal and Codka Shacabka, were suspended on the decision of the Attorney General. The prosecuted journalists are charged for acts related to their work as journalists. 

On 2011 the Attorney General, Hassan Ahmed Adam, issued a decision temporarily banning registration of new media houses. The Attorney General did not issue another decision rescinding or repealing his previous decision. The Press Law provides the procedure in which media houses are to be registered. The Law does not permit the Attorney General or any other government official to suspend registration of media houses, a constitutionally guaranteed freedomJournalists who tried to take over already registered media houses because of the difficulty in getting new registration are either prosecuted,such as Hubsad journalists, or theirmedia houses are suspended by the Attorney General. Xog Ogaal and Codka Shacabka newspapers as well as Hubsad newspaper are clear examples. 

The Office of the Attorney General prefers to apply the outdated Somali Penal Code which predates the constitution and the Press Law. The latter two decriminalize media.  

Somaliland Attorney General need to know that freedom of expression is constitutionally protected. The main task of the Office of Attorney General is to fight crime, not to prosecute journalists. 

I conclude emphasizing that along with authority comes accountability. In this globalized world where many people have dual citizenship, if justice in one country does not work for victims, it may work in the other country. 

The views expressed in this article are mine and do not represent any entity.  

Guleid Ahmed Jama

Human rights lawyer

Hargeisa Somaliland

Follow on twitter @GuleidJ