- A judicial farce in Somaliland's capital Hargeisa is exposing the poor human rights standards in the country. In a controversial court case against a 17-year-old girl, accused of "terrorism" and "espionage" and allegedly raped by several police officers, the girl's four lawyers have been sentenced to three years in prison.
The highly profiled Somalilander human rights lawyer and activist Rakiya Omaar is outraged by the "blatant injustice" behind the imprisonment of the four lawyers and the detention of the girl they defended. He says it demonstrates the "deteriorating human rights situation in Somaliland today."
Also Somalilander government officials, speaking to afrol News on terms of anonymity, say "developments in the area of human rights in Somaliland are alarming." The "latest circus of events in Somaliland's judiciary" was adding to these "adverse developments".
The case of 17-year-old Zamzam Ahmed Dualeh and her driver, Omer Jama Warsame, has already caused some controversy in Somaliland, largely because of the surprising claim, based on flimsy evidence, that the two were involved in espionage and a conspiracy, emanating from Puntland, to murder the Vice President of Somaliland, Ahmed Yusuf Yassin. Zamzam and Mr Warsame were arrested on 15 August, at the gates of the Vice-Presidents' residence, unarmed.
After being arrested, the two were immediately transferred to the headquarters of the notorious Central Intelligence Department (CID) in Hargeisa. Zamzam claims that six CID officers raped her and subjected her to other sexual violence and beatings. Mr Warsame was released after a few days, but was re-arrested after he complained that the CID had damaged his vehicle and sought compensation.
The case of Zamzam has increasingly caused shock and disbelief in Somaliland. At first, the Somalilander press would not report on the case as it sounded too surrealistic to be true. Research by the independent 'Awdal News' established the basic facts in the case and the court proceedings are now also reported by the independent daily 'Jamhuuriya'.
As the case became known, Rakiya Omaar of the non-governmental organisation African Rights got involved and provided Zamzam and her driver with a team of four human rights lawyers. The court hearings were suspended during the month of Ramadan, and the court re-convened on Wednesday, 24 November.
According to Mr Omaar, it was during the Wednesday session that the girl's lawyers were sentenced. "As in the past, the court was surrounded by heavily armed soldiers, police officers and traffic wardens, who were intimidating, rough and abusive in their treatment of the public," reports Mr Omaar from Hargeisa.
While questioning one of the state witnesses, the lead prosecutor, who had his back turned to the public gallery, accused someone of speaking aloud and insisted that the person be charged. He pointed his finger at Ali Mohamed Kaar, the secretary of a human rights organization. He ordered the police to seat Mr Kaar among the accused. "No one had in fact spoken," Mr Omaar insists.
The four lawyers challenged the prosecutor's actions and questioned his authority to behave as he did. They appealed to the judge, advising him to take charge of his court. When he failed to act, they expressed their lack of confidence in the judge's impartiality, and suggested that he remove himself from the case.
The lawyers, prosecutor and judge argued among themselves, and the prosecutor, accusing the lawyers of contempt of court, directed the judge to take a stand against them. After a few minutes, the judge announced that he had sentenced the lawyers to three years imprisonment.
The lawyers were immediately taken to Hargeisa central prison where they remain. Meanwhile, the case against Zamzam and Mr Warsame was suspended "indefinitely".
African Rights in a statement yesterday urged the government of Somaliland to "release the four lawyers immediately and unconditionally." Further, the group demanded the resumption, "without delay," of the case against Zamzam and Mr Warsame, and finally, "to remove the judge and the prosecutor from the case."
The rights group represented by Mr Omaar says it has "repeatedly drawn attention to the disastrous situation of the judiciary in Somaliland." It was not merely crippled by inadequate human and financial resources, but also often was used as a tool for repression and disregarded judicial process as a matter of routine.
- This indifference to basic human rights is sadly not an exception, but an every day occurrence and indicates the deteriorating human rights situation in Somaliland today, African Rights holds.
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