Rights group calls for immediate release of Somaliland poet

Campaign group Human Rights Watch has called for the immediate release of a poet who has been detained in Somaliland since January.

Abdirahman Abees, a British passport holder, was arrested on 12 January after he recited a poem in which he described human rights abuses he said he had witnessed at a police station in Hargeisa, the capital.

Authorities arrested him from a hotel in the city.

“Abdirahman, a popular Somaliland poet and British dual citizen, has been held at the central prison in Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland, for over a month, solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression,” HRW said in a statement.

The government has not responded to the group’s demands. If found guilty, the poet could be jailed for up to three years.

His lawyer told the BBC that the poem called on the Somaliland government to reform its prisons and criminal justice systems and was not defamatory.

“He did not insult anybody,” Guled Ahmed Jamac said. The issues that his client was raising “are important issues which concern us all”, he added.

The lawyer said Abees was formally charged on 18 February under Article 269 of the Somaliland penal code for “insulting the police and the government”.

The court set an initial hearing date of 21 February.

Mr Abees’ poetry often discusses issues such as police brutality, arbitrary detention and the treatment of prisoners.

In 2018, female poet Nacima Qorane was found guilty of bringing the state into contempt with a poem which called for unity. She was sentenced to three years in prison but later received a presidential pardon.

According to the Human Rights Center, a leading human rights organization in Somaliland, the Somaliland authorities arrested 28 journalists for their work or for social media posts in 2018 alone.

Source: Biladd.com