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Somali Court Acquits Journalist Over Government Charges

Map of Somalia highlighting Mogadishu.
Map of Somalia highlighting Mogadishu.

A freelance journalist who had been detained in Somalia for 56 days has been cleared of all charges.

The Banadir Regional Court declared Mohamed Bulbul free on Wednesday after it found him not guilty of all charges against him. According to the Somali Journalists Syndicate where Bulbul also works as information and human rights secretary, the court said Bulbul’s detention was unlawful.

The journalist was arrested on August 17 following an investigative report he wrote alleging corruption by Somali police in a training program funded by the European Union. Amnesty International said he was accused of “bringing the State into contempt” and for “circulating false and tendentious news.”

Abdalle Mumin, secretary general of the Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS), stressed the importance of Bubul’s release. Bubul was arrested illegally with no warrant, Mumin said, then tortured and held without communication for 56 days.

Mumin said Bulbul was arrested because he exposed alleged corruption by police officials who had participated in the training funded by the E.U.

The European Union Capacity Building Mission in Somalia (EUCAP Somalia) provides training to the Somali Police Force and the Somali National Army. Following the release of the report in mid-August, Bulbul was arrested by security officials and held in at least two detention centers, according to SJS.

Mumin said journalists in Somalia continue to operate in difficult situations. Press freedom is poor, Mumin said, with Bulbul’s arrest coming after other attacks on journalists.

According to SJS, which advocates for media freedom in Somalia, Bulbul was not allowed access to family and counsel and was also physically abused. The group added that Bulbul had been taken to the hospital for the physical abuse he suffered in detention. Bulbul told VOA he was held in the same cell with hardcore criminals.

Bulbul said he shared a cell with a man who had been sentenced to life imprisonment and a convicted member of ISIS service a life sentence. Bulbul added that he had reported on both in the past.

Bulbul said he was picked up by security officials following the release of a report that alleged police corruption in an EU-funded training program. His report said funds intended for the police were misappropriated by senior police officers undergoing training in Mogadishu.

Said Yusuf, a photojournalist working for the European Pressphoto Agency in Somalia, told VOA the court should compel the government to compensate Bulbul for detention. Yusuf said Bulbul should be compensated because he was imprisoned illegally for almost two months, with no rights.

Journalists in Somalia continue to operate in a difficult environment. Besides risks from armed groups, the state's use of draconian laws has been cited as a major impediment to press freedom.