By Barkhad Dahir in Hargeisa
March 06, 2013
The Somaliland administration's restrictions on people travelling to Mogadishu, which have resulted in some high profile arrests, infringe on the rights of citizens, human rights advocates say.
The February 12th arrest of well-known clan elder Rabi Yusuf Abdullahi is one of the latest in a series of cases involving prominent local citizens accused of violating the administration's Mogadishu travel ban.
Abdullahi went to Mogadishu in August to participate in forming the Somali Federal Government. He has remained in jail for more than three weeks as prosecutors build a case against him.
Somaliland declared itself a sovereign state in 1991, however, its secession from Somalia has not been recognised by the Somali Federal Government or the international community.
"It is a fundamental right for a person to go anywhere he pleases without having any restrictions imposed on him," said Ahmed Yusuf Hussein, director of the Hargeisa-based Horn Human Rights Umbrella.
"Someone should not be arrested or charged for what he believes, and it is wrong to jail him for his political ideas if he is not causing any trouble," he told Sabahi, adding that international laws and the Somaliland constitution protect citizens' freedom of political thought and expression.
Nonetheless, a government order restricts politicians, party leaders and traditional leaders from travelling to and from Mogadishu, according to Somaliland Minister of Interior Mohamed Nur Arrale.
"There is an order at the airport to prevent party leaders, politicians and cultural leaders from travelling to or coming from Mogadishu, which is a place we disagree with on politics and with an administration that is claiming [Somaliland]," Arrale was quoted as saying in an interview with independent newspaper Geeska Afrika on December 28th.
The Somaliland administration is in talks with the Somali Federal Government, which Arrale said could be undermined if prominent figures from Somaliland also engage independently in that dialogue.
The interview appeared two days after Berbera airport police blocked former deputy chairman of the ruling Kulmiye party Abdirahman Abdulkadir Farah and former Somaliland Minister of Youth, Sports and Tourism Mohamud Said Mohamed from boarding a flight to Mogadishu.
Farah and Mohamed said they were travelling to Mogadishu to sell property they owned there.
Incidents date to 2012
Politicians and other officials have been caught up in the travel ban since last year, despite indications that the Somaliland administration is willing to enter talks with the Somali Federal Government.
On October 19th, chairman of the Somaliland Football Federation Ahmed Mohamud Sheikh Muhumed was arrested in Berbera with athletics association official Mohamed Hussein Dhabeye after they returned from a visit to Mogadishu.
The two were accused of going to Mogadishu to meet with the Somali Football Federation. They were released after a few days.
On February 13th, a member of the upper house of parliament, Ahmed Hassan Salah, and his wife were stopped at airport on their way to Mogadishu. Zamzam Abdi, Salah's wife, who spoke to independent newspaper Hatuf about the incident, said she and her husband were going to Mogadishu to sell their house.
Even though they were prevented from boarding one flight, Abdi said the administration eventually gave them written permission to leave on another flight after the family provided evidence that their trip was apolitical.
On February 23rd, Somaliland deported Somali parliamentarian Jama Mohamud after a regional court in Marodi-Jeh fined him 1 million Somaliland shillings ($151) and ordered him to leave Somaliland within 24 hours. Mohamud, a Hargeisa native, was arrested earlier in February on charges of treason for serving in the Somali Federal Government.
Rights advocates weigh in
People started travelling from Somaliland to other parts of Somalia after Somaliland President Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo's administration held its first formal direct talks in decades with the Somali Federal Government in June, said Khadar Iid Kariye, editor of Hargeisa-based independent newspaper Ogaal.
However, the administration does not want anyone with political clout or anyone currently in office to travel to Mogadishu because it does not want the relationship it established with Somalia to undermine its bid for sovereignty, Kariye told Sabahi.
"[The administration] wants to show that its people have not been swayed by what is going on in southern Somalia," he said.
Hargeisa-based political analyst Abshir Askar said people must not be stopped from travelling to Mogadishu for business, trade or political reasons.
"The [Somaliland] administration can engage in talks with the Somali government, but people cannot be prevented from travelling to Mogadishu because they have many reasons to go there," Askar told Sabahi.
The Somaliland administration this month signalled its willingness to talk to the Somali government, as long as its independence is not up for debate.
There is no law in Somaliland that criminalises travelling to Mogadishu, Mohamud Abdirahman, a lawyer with Hargeisa-based Watershed Legal Services, told Sabahi.
"According to the Somaliland constitution, one can only be punished for a crime that is forbidden by a law [passed by parliament]. Therefore, travelling to and from Mogadishu cannot be a crime or have a punishment," Abdirahman said.
"If Jama Mohamud and Rabi Yusuf Abdullahi were held for that reason, then that is illegal," he said.