Imprisoned political leaders to be released as elections approach

President Dahir Rayale Kahin of the self-declared republic of Somaliland has agreed to release three leaders of the Qaran organisation who were jailed for setting up a political party unsanctioned by the authorities, officials said.

Ahmed Mohammed Silanyo, chairman of Somaliland’s main authorised opposition group, told IRIN the decision was made after an all-day meeting with a mediation team of religious leaders, human rights activists and local politicians.

The leader of the Qaran party, Mohamed Abdi Gabose, and his two deputies, Hohamed Hashi Elmi and Jamal Aideed, have been held since 28 July in Mandhera prison, 70km outside Hargeisa, on charges of “engaging in unauthorised political activities”.  

The government of Somaliland – which is yet to receive international recognition since declaring its independence in 1991 – has limited the number of political parties allowed by its constitution to three, to prevent the kind of clan-based party fragmentation that has plagued southern Somalia since the overthrow of the Siad Barre regime.

The imprisonment of the Qaran party leaders, which came after the government jailed three journalists from the Somali daily newspaper Haatuf earlier this year, had been criticised by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. It also increased calls within Somaliland for constitutional reform to allow more political parties.

“The immediate detention issue has been solved,” Silanyo said. “But the larger issues of the fate of the Qaran party and other political organisations remains unresolved.”

The government has not announced when the prisoners would be released.

After visiting her husband in Mandhera prison on 21 August, Hibo Abdullahi Hassan, wife of Mohamed Abdi Gabose, said the party members were unsatisfied with the ambiguity of their situation. “Their main concern is the freedom of their party. As long as that is not clear they are not completely happy with the decision,” she said.

Somaliland is scheduled to hold district elections in December this year, and presidential elections in April 2008.

cj/sr