Nairobi: Two journalists in northern Somalia`s self-declared independent Somaliland region have been sentenced to three years in jail for false reports and defaming the government, reports said Wednesday, as rights groups condemned the sentence.
Yusuf Abdi Gabobe, owner of the Haatuf Media Network and its editor Ahmed Ali Egeh were sentenced to jail for "spreading false information and defaming government officials," according to media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
Gadobe was arrested and held in custody earlier this month, but Egeh is reported to have gone into hiding.
The Hataaf network publishes two newspapers, Hataaf and the English-langauge Somaliland Times.
The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) "condemns in the strongest terms possible to the harsh sentence handed down to two journalists," it said in a statement.
"The authorities are breaking their own laws by giving these journalists jail terms, because press offences are no longer punishable by imprisonment," RSF`s Africa chief Clea Kahn-Sriber said.
"This is a witch-hunt against journalists who just did their duty to report the news."
The newspaper licences were also revoked, and the two men were also fined some 4,000 dollars each, RSF added.
"We call upon the Somaliland authorities to quash the verdict and free the journalists, and allow the newspapers to resume operations," NUSOJ secretary general Mohamed Ibrahim said.
Somaliland, a former British protectorate, broke away from Somalia in 1991, the year the rest of the Horn of Africa nation erupted into all-out civil war.
Somalia, especially the war-torn south, is one of most dangerous countries for reporters.
Last week prominent journalist Yusuf Keynan was killed by a car bomb in the capital Mogadishu.