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Mission Report on the Trial Observation of Detained
Human Rights Defenders
in Somaliland

ISSUE 269
Front Page
Index
Headlines

Eighteen butchers get six months in prison for demonstrating against Mayor Ji'ir

Swedish Gov’t To Treat Somaliland As Self-Governing Entity

African Press Needs Help Against Oppression

Arab League To End Somaliland’s Isolation

Candle Light Vigil For Eight Remaining Ethiopian Captives, Free Europeans Leave For Britain

Should The World Legitimize The Independence Of Somaliland?

Accidental Blast Kills 9 Near Mogadishu - Police

Another Journalist Arrested In Hargeysa

"We would not cross swords on this": PM Meles

Mission Report on the Trial Observation of Detained Human Rights Defenders
in Somaliland

Regional Affairs

U.S. Citizen Jailed By Ethiopians

Up To 40,000 Civilians Flee Mogadishu

Editorial
Special Report

International News

Iran to Sell Oil in euros and other currencies

The liberal war on democracy

Greek coast guard finds further bodies after refugee boat tragedy

Why is the US press silent on Brzezinski’s warnings of war against Iran?

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed: The Official Legend of 9/11 is a Fabricated Setup

Murder of Human Rights Activists Prompts UN Condemnation

FEATURES & COMMENTARY

Somalia: Back to perpetual war

PRECIS: OBSTACLES TO PEACE IN SOMALIA

Smoldering In Somalia

Somalia - James Swan To The Baltimore CFR

Oromo Manifestations challenge Abyssinian Dictator Meles Zenawiy

Food for thought

Opinions

BBC Somali Section Head – Yusuf Garad Is The Remaining Warlord

Mr. President, Back Off From Your Self-Defeating Mission: And Reform Your Leadership and Administration

Dear Mr. President: Please Release My Father!

Somaliland Needs Salvation, What Should Be Done To Save It?

Progress in Somalia: A Myth or Reality?

If Ghana Dares To Recognize Somaliland, Will Southern Politician Scream?

What A Nightmare Scenario!

Petition For Impeachment Of Dahir Rayale Kahin


Mission Report on the
Trial Observation of Detained
Human Rights Defenders
in Somaliland

East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP)
Human Rights House, Plot 1853, Lulume Rd., Nsambya
P.O. Box 11027 Kampala, Uganda
Phone: +256-41-267118 (direct)
Fax: +256-41-267117
E-mail: ehahrdp@yahoo.ca
Website: http://www.yorku.ca/crs/AHRDP/index.html
Contact Persons:
Hassan Shire Sheikh (Chairperson): hshire@yorku.ca, +256-712-394843
Nora Rehmer (Programme Officer): nrehmer@yahoo.de, +256-772-454756

Background to the mission

Background to this mission is the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project’s objective to protect and defend human rights defenders (HRDs) as well as advocate and raise public awareness and profiles of HRDs in the region.

Mr. Yusuf Gabobe, who attended a conference for journalist organized by EHAHRDP in November 2006 and his fellow journalists are considered human rights defenders due to the nature of their work. It is the denial of basic rights such as a fair trial to Mr. Gabobe and his co-accused that have necessitated this mission.

On January 2nd, 2007 the offices of Haatuf Media Network were stormed by police and chairman Yusuf Abdi Gabobe and editor Ali Abdi Dini were arrested. Haatuf’s correspondent in Borame, Mohamed Omar Sheikh Ibrahim was arrested at his home on January 14th, 2007 and detained in Kodbur police station in Hargeisa. The arrests have been made in connection with a series of articles published by Haatuf from November 2006 to January 2007 in which alleged corruption and nepotism practices by Somaliland President H.E Dahir Riyaale’s wife have been exposed. The detained journalists were due to appear before a regional court in Hargeisa on February 4th, but instead were transferred to Mandheera prison, located between Hargeisa and Berbera. Ali Abdi Dini has been charged among others with “offending the honour or prestige of the Head of State” while Yusuf Abdi Gabobe was charged with resisting public officers during his arrest. The author of some of the articles Muhamad Rashid Farah was charged in absentia while remaining in hiding.

On Saturday February 24th, 2007 the Chairperson of EHAHRDP/Net Hassan Shire Sheikh and the EHAHRDP Programme Officer Nora Rehmer set off for the eight day mission. Their mission was coordinated by the following Network
members, Ms. Asmahan Abdelsalam, Nagaad Women’s Umbrella Organisation and focal point of the Network for Somaliland, Mr. Ibrahim Musa Wais, Chairperson of Samotalis and Mr. Suleiman Bolale, Chairperson of HornWatch. It is with the generous support of Front Line and the tireless work of the Somaliland Network members, that this mission was possible.
Hassan Shire Sheikh, Suleiman Bolale, Ibrahim Musa Wais and Asmahan Abdelsalam. @Rehmer
 

Objectives of the mission

It is the denial of a fair trial to Yusuf Gabobe and his fellow accused that has made this mission necessary. It was believed that a direct assessment of the situation on spot as well as proactive cooperation with the civil society in Somaliland was necessary to actively reinforce local and international efforts to lobby the authorities for affording a fair trial to the detained journalists. The objectives of the mission therefore were:

- To collect relevant information on the background of the case and proceedings of authorities in the arrest and continued detention of Yusuf Gabobe, Ali Abdi Dini and Mohamed Omar Sheikh Ibrahim;

- To obtain the relevant legislation and assess the rightfulness of the authorities’ conduct within the national legal framework;

- To receive information from civil society members on the current situation with regards to the respect of human rights and the rule of law;

- To attend court hearings and assess the quality of the trial which is enshrined in individual’s rights to a fair trial;

- To meet with relevant authorities to discuss the case and their respective responsibility; convey the concerns of the Network as well as the wider international community with respect to the treatment of the detained journalists and lobby for their release or granting of bail.

Mission proceedings

Journalists working for Haatuf Media Network, among them Mr. Muhamad Rashid Farha (2nd left upper row) with Mr. Hassan Shire Sheikh, head of the EHAHRD-Net delegation (3rd left, upper row)
The run up of the trial of the three detained Haatuf journalists, witnessed an intense and heated debate on the Somaliland press law, the judiciary, existing legislation and the role of community based organizations in Somaliland. The Somaliland civil society led campaign on behalf of the detained Haatuf journalist was strengthened by the arrival of a delegation from the East and Horn of African Human Rights Defenders Network (EHAHRD-Net) on February 26th, 2007 that aimed at contributing the pressure on the authorities by restating national, regional and international calls to effect a free and fair trial Somaliland Press authorities by restating national, regional and international calls to effect a free and fair trial in a publicly conducted, competent
court in accordance with the existent in a publicly conducted, competent court in accordance with the existent Somaliland Press Law.

Upon arrival of EHAHRD-Net delegation which was planned and coordinated by the Somaliland Network members, the mission immediately commenced its high level advocacy work by meeting various stakeholders including leading government officials, prominent members of the legislative assembly and members of well-established civil society organizations.

Mr. Ahmed Hasa Ali, Minister of Justice and Mr. Hassan Shire Sheikh, Chairperson EHAHRD-Net © Rehmer
On Wednesday, 28th February 2007 the delegation first met the Minister for Foreign Affairs and later in the day the Minister for Justice. Both welcomed the delegation and assured its members of their full co-operation to facilitate the activities of the mission including a visit to detained journalists and their observation of the trial. They took note and promised to inform the President about the grave concerns of the international community with regards to the three detained journalists and potential negative consequences for the country’s in the eyes of world public opinion.

The date of the court trial was announced early in the afternoon the same day for Thursday March 1st, 2007 at 8 a.m. This followed a the Supreme Court verdict on the application of Somaliland Press Law vis-à-vis the Criminal Law of former Somalia in favor of the latter on February 27th 20076.

In the late evening of February 28th, the interim Commissioner of the Somaliland National Human Rights Commission met the members of the delegation after an unscheduled call following high level interest of top government officials in the activities and objectives of the EHAHRD-Net mission.

The Interim Commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission and the delegation finalized the logistical modalities of the delegation’s attendance of the court trial the following morning which required among others the escorting by security personnel and official clearance.

On 1st March at 5:30 am, the mission departed from Hargeisa to Mandheera district about 96 KM north of Hargeisa along with the Interim Commissioner and civil society delegates, relatives and friends of the detainees.

The court presided over by Hargeisa court judge Mr. Faysal Ismail Abdilahi was opened at 9:15 am in the presence of the three defendant journalists Mr. Yusuf Abdi Gabobe, Mr. Ali Abdi Dini and Mr. Mohamed Omar Sheikh Ibrahim as well as Government prosecutor Mr. Said Mohamed Obsiye. However, the defense lawyers were absent.

After court was called to order, the presiding judge asked the defendants whether court could proceed without the presence of their defense lawyers and whether they were willing to defend themselves. In response, the defendants expressed general lack of confidence in the entire court proceedings but offered no specific objection for the court to proceed.

Temporary Courthouse in Mandera Police Acadamy

The defendants argued that the entire court set up was not fair and independent and therefore lacked the fundamental principles of equal access to justice.

After this point was submitted by the lead defendant Mr. Gabobe, the majority of the public present in the court hall cheered and clapped in a public show support for the journalists. This proved to change the mood of the court and heightened the tension among the officials and observers. After order was attained again with help of

members of security personnel present, the court invited the public prosecutor to make his opening remarks and invite some of his key witnesses from the state.

State witness Mr. Mohamed Ahmed Sucid, 70 years old, Manager of the Government vehicle depot at the Ministry of Public Work and Transportation, took the oath to testify against some of the allegations claiming irregularities in transferring government vehicles to relatives and high level state officials published by Haatuf Media Network in a series of articles starting in November 2006 until January 2007.

The presiding judge then invited the defendants to provide counter submission to the statements and evidence provided by the first witness. However, the defendants maintained their earlier position of non-cooperation and declined to comment directly to the allegations.

The prosecutor proceeded by asking the court to permit his second state witness.

State witness Mr. Abdilahi Mohamed Aden, Deputy Commander of CID and leader of the police unit which raided Haatuf Media and arrested the journalists. Mr. Aden alleged that the management of the Haatuf Media Network obstructed the search and the arrest of Haatuf’s Chief Editor who was the initial target of their mission to the Haatuf premises. However, Mr. Aden admitted that he did not have a search and arrest warrant and could not identify the Chief Editor he was looking for.

The defendants again offered no response towards the allegations submitted by the second state witness. At that time, the two defense lawyers arrived in court and were immediately recognized by the presiding judge.

The two defense lawyers joined their clients for quick consultation when the court inquired as to whether they want to offer any cross examination to the two previous state witnesses. In response, the defense lawyers complained about the timing and the location of the court hearing and alleged that they had been given inaccurate information on the court timing. Mention should be made that the defendants at this point withdrew their legal representation contract from the lawyers who then requested and obtained their permission to leave the court.

The third state witness Mr. Abdilahi Farah Omar, senior CID investigator, testified against the defendants by quoting various Haatuf articles alleging government’s high level of corruption and mal-practice. The presiding judge then asked the defendants to submit to court the supporting evidence of their allegations on corrupt practice.

The defendants once again declined to cooperate with the court by repeating the lack of confidence in its integrity. The presiding judge then announced the temporary adjournment of the court for consultation and left.

Following the departure of the presiding judge and the adjournment of court, members of the general public mainly the relatives and friends of the defendants crossed the floor of the court and starting chatting with the defendants in the presence of the security police personal.

This was followed by some members of the independent media starting to record an interview with the defendants which was objected by security police. An angry exchange followed including shouting, stamping and later a scuffle between the police and the members of the media which was joined by angry members of the public. At this point complete confusion ensued and danger of public safety was feared as a result of the confrontation between armed police and some members of the public.

Nora Rehmer, Programme Officer; Mr. Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo, Chairperson KULMIYE party and leader of the opposition in Parliament, Hassan Shire Sheikh, Chairperson

This tense situation was defused primarily by the senior police commanders who publicly reprimanded the members of their forces involved and requested the general public to disperse peacefully.

Due to these circumstances, the court announced the suspension of the rest of the court business without setting a new date. The mission retuned back to Hargeisa at 12:30 pm.

The delegation continued to meet with stakeholders from different sections of society, among them the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of Parliament mentioned plans for the set up of an inquiry commission into Government’s conduct of the arrest and detention of the journalists.

On Sunday March 3rd, 2007 at 8 a.m. the verdict was read at the court venue in Mandheera in the presence of civil society members, among them members of EHAHRD-Net. Yusuf Abdi Gabobe, chairman of Haatuf, was sentenced to two years imprisonment while editor Ali Abdi Dini and correspondent Mohamed Omar Sheikh Ibrahim together with investigative reporter Muhamad Rashid Farah who was tried in absentia received sentences of two years and five months. In addition, the media house was fined 5 Million Somaliland Shilling (estimated US$ 800). However, unexpected was the withdrawal of the operation licence from Haatuf.

Observations

The authorities of the Government of Somaliland have violated national legislation in several instances.

Firstly, the journalists were arrested and their media house searched without a warrant.

Secondly, despite the existence of a Press Law that came into force in 2004 holding measures of civil redress, the Supreme Court ruled for the application of the Penal Code dating back to the 1960s of the Somalia union. However, this exposed the accused to criminal charges with the possibility of imprisonment.

Thirdly, the transferral of the detainees to Mandheera prison wrongly removed the accused from the jurisdiction of Hargeisa court.

Fourthly on the day of the trial, proceedings started without the presence of the defence lawyers which constitutes a violation of court procedures.

Fifthly, upon the reading of the verdict new charges appeared, among them those against Haatuf Media Network who had not been accused earlier and therefore had not had any legal representation. In addition, Yusuf Gabobe was found guilty of having resisted his arrest which had been clearly denied in the testimony by the Deputy Commander of CID who had overseen his arrest.

In general, the delegation comes to the conclusion that the case of the Haatuf journalists was handled in a much personalised manner and authority was abused to settle personal grievances. The journalists’ right to a fair trial was clearly violated which reflects negatively on the independence of the judiciary and the respect of the rule of law in Somaliland.

According to several observers, it is likely that the convicted will be pardoned by the President in the very near future which will allow them to continue their work but at the same time have served the first family to demonstrate their might and keep their face.

EHAHRD-Net will continue to monitor the situation and use newly acquired contacts to obtain information and support campaign measures of civil society in relation to this case and the wider respect of human rights.

Assessment of the mission

The EHAHRD-Net considers the mission to be a success by having achieved most of its objectives as spelt out above. Extensive contacts with civil society were made and their efforts to advocate for the respect of the rights of the detained journalists were reinforced by interaction with relevant members of the government as well as the legislative.

The delegations presence in Somaliland and its activism has been sending clear signs to the authorities on the international community’s stand towards the violation of human rights and its awareness of the events in Somaliland.

It is believed that the delegation’s critical interaction with leading figures of the society put pressure on the Government to proceed with the trial and not continue keeping the journalists detained without a verdict for a much longer period of time. So far it is unclear if the inconsistency of the verdict will be challenged by the journalists in the court of laws. Hope can be put into the inquiry commission to be set up by the Parliament which if done professionally and independently will reveal the severe flaws of the entire process.

In addition to the assessment of the Haatuf case, the delegation was able to collect additional information on the human rights situation in Somaliland. Several discussions with civil society leaders suggest a narrowing space for human rights work and little cooperation from authorities in establishing a human rights culture in the country. Lack of dialogue between institutions and civil society were frequently cited.

In addition, the rights of ethnic minorities seem to be continuously violated by authorities and members of the general public and no protection or justice is availed to them. Lack of any political representation prevents minorities from claiming their rights. Need for sensitising civil society on minority rights and their need for support has become obvious to effectively lobby for the respect of their rights.

The state of the media has been described as critical by authorities as well as civil society organisations largely owed to the lack of qualitative journalism. Unfounded allegations, poorly researched articles and outright insults are widely published throughout all available print media targeting not only political figure heads but also other member of societies. Dire need of training for journalists and other media workers and the establishment of a code of conduct were frequently expressed to ensure the media’s contribution to the democratisation process.

Follow up activities

The unconstitutional proceeding in the case of the Haatuf journalists calls for a close monitoring of the situation in Somaliland. The fact that the judiciary is not independent and as in this case has clearly violated national legal provisions suggests a decline in democratic performance of the Somaliland government. Other indicators will have to be keenly observed by the Network members in Somaliland as well as the entire region especially in the run up of the presidential elections due to be held earlier in 2008.

The EHAHRDP team will furthermore stay in close contact with its Network members in Somaliland to follow the developments with regard to the convicted journalists. By the time of the delegation’s departure no information could be obtained on further legal proceedings by the convicted.

The team will stay in close contact with its members to receive information on the situation of human rights defenders operating in Somaliland and provide support via its Network and partners where need be.

Annex

Press Statement

EAST AND HORN OF AFRICA HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS NETWORK

Press Statement

EHAHRD-Net Index: SOM/002/2007 (Public)

March 4th, 2007

HARGEISA: EHAHRD-Net denounces verdict against detained journalists in Somaliland

The delegation of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (EHAHRD-Net) currently on advocacy mission in Somaliland, robustly denounces the verdict handed down on three journalists from Haatuf Media Network imprisoned for more than two months for allegedly defaming the President of the Republic of Somaliland.

Yusuf Abdi Gabobe, chairman of Haatuf, was sentenced to two years imprisonment while editor Ali Abdi Dini and correspondent Mohamed Omar Sheikh Ibrahim together with investigative reporter Muhamad Rashid Farah who was tried in absentia received sentences of two years and five months. In addition, the media house was fined 5 Million Somaliland Shilling (estimated US$ 800). However, unexpected was the withdrawal of the operation licence from Haatuf which can be seen as an outright ban of its independent publications.

The verdict was delivered March 4th, 2007 at 9 a.m. at the venue of court, Mandheera Police Training School close to where three of the sentenced journalists are currently held. The verdict follows a brief court session on Thursday March 1st, 2007 at the same venue that saw proceedings in front of an incomplete court with the defence lawyer absent, the application of criminal law instead of the national Press Law and charges brought forward different to those referred to in today’s verdict.

The court’s ruling found Yusuf Abdi Gabobe and his fellow accused guilty of insulting the President of the Republic of Somaliland. However, no mention was made in the verdict on the allegations of corruption in Haatuf’s articles that led to the arrest of the journalists. The court furthermore ruled that Haatuf’s work fostered clan division and brought about unrest, while Yusuf Abdi Gabobe was found guilty of resisting public officers during the arrest early January 2007.

Mr. Hassan Shire Sheikh, Chairman of EHAHRD-Net and leader of the delegation to Somaliland, criticised the unconstitutional conduct of the entire case from the arrest of the journalists to the delivery of verdict. “I am calling upon the Government for an immediate and unconditional release of these journalists to let media freedom and the rule of law prevail in this country. The right to a fair trial has clearly been violated and this case will constitute a stain on Somaliland’s otherwise positive human rights record.” He continues his appeal, “I furthermore call upon the Government to lift the ban on Haatuf publications and allow the media to flourish as part of an on-going democratisation process.”

Severe breaches of law were recorded during the delegation’s assessment of the case and its observation of the trial. Among others it was the application of criminal law dating back to the time of the Somalia union in 1960 to try the accused instead of making use of the Press Law that came into force in 2004. This exposed the accused to criminal charges with the possibility of imprisonment compared to measures of civil redress as stipulated by the Press Law. The transfer of the detainees to Mandheera prison, 90 km from Hargeisa, is understood as interference in the jurisdiction of Hargeisa court over this case. The fact that court was held without the presence of a defence lawyer, impaired on its fairness which was further aggravated by the additional charges against Haatuf Media Network that were announced only during the delivery of the verdict and allowed for no chance of defence.

The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network is convinced that the detained journalists did not receive a free and fair trial and that the international community needs to speak out on the conduct of justice in Somaliland.

BACKGROUND

On January 2nd, 2007 the offices of Haatuf Media Network were stormed by police and chairman Yusuf Abdi Gabobe and editor Ali Abdi Dini were arrested. Haatuf’s correspondent in Borame, Mohamed Omar Sheikh Ibrahim was arrested at his home on January 14th, 2007 and detained in Kodbur police station in Hargeisa. The arrests have been made in connection with a series of articles published by Haatuf from November 2006 to January 2007 in which alleged corruption and nepotism practices by Somaliland President H.E Dahir Riyaale’s wife have been exposed. The detained journalists were due to appear before a regional court in Hargeisa on February 4th, but instead were transferred to Mandheera prison, located between Hargeisa and Berbera. Ali Abdi Dini has been charged among others with “offending the honour or prestige of the Head of State” while Yusuf Abdi Gabobe was charged with resisting public officers during his arrest. The author of some of the articles Muhamad Rashid Farah was charged in absentia while remaining in hiding.

For further information, please contact:
Hassan Shire Sheikh, Chairperson EHAHRDP/Net
Telephone contact in Somaliland: +252-2-4121231 (available until afternoon March 5th, 2007)
Email: ehahrdp@yahoo.ca

APPEAL

  • The Network restates and calls for the following:
    For the Government of the Republic of Somaliland to immediately and unconditionally release the detained journalists;
  • For the Government to withdraw the ban on Haatuf and allow for the continuation of
    its publications;
  • For the Government to return all confiscated equipment to its owners in its original state;
  • For the Government to observe media freedom and follow the rule of law in bringing justice to its people and respect the rights of the individual.

The Network calls upon its members, supporters and friends to send appeals spelling out your concerns and requests for action as quickly as possible. Appeals should be sent to:

(Please note that no postal service exists in Somaliland. Where possible send appeals via email as sending faxes might prove to be difficult.)

President
His Exellency President Dahir Riyaale Kahin
Fax: +252 213 8324; +252 252 3848
Email: sl_victory@hotmail.com; sl_victory@yahoo.com
Salutation: Dear President

Minister of Interior
Mr. Abdillahi Ismail Shabeel
c/o Ministry of Foreign Affairs or The Presidency
Fax: +252 828 3271; +252 225 3871
Email: slforeign@hotmail.com
Salutation: Dear Minister

Minister of Justice
Mr. Ahmed Hasa Ali
c/o Ministry of Foreign Affairs or The Presidency
Fax: +252 828 3271; +252 225 387
Email: slforeign@hotmail.com
Salutation: Dear Minister

Commander of the Somaliland Police
Mr. Mohamed Shaqadi Dubad
c/o Ministry of Foreign Affairs or The Presidency
Fax: +252 828 3271; +252 225 3871
Email: slforeign@hotmail.com

Copies can be sent to the Somaliland missions (not recognised) with the request to be forwarded to the Somaliland authorities:

Italy
Mr. Muhiyadin Ahmed Abdi Gabose
Representative of the Somaliland Government
Corso Unione Sovietice 465, Torino, Italy

United Kingdom
Mr. Osman Ahmed Hassan
Representative of the Somaliland Government
Somaliland Mission
102 Cavell Street, London E1 2JA, United Kingdom
Fax: +44 207 247 5336

United States of America
Mr. Saad Sheikh Omar Nur
Representative of the Somaliland Government
Washington DC, USA
Fax: +1 301 231 5990
Email: snoor@sand.com

Source: EHAHRDP/Net


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