The three-year conviction of Somaliland poet and peace activist Nacima Abwaan Qorane this week highlights the increasingly repressive environment in Somaliland for peaceful expression, said global civil society alliance, CIVICUS.
Nacima was arrested in January 2018 at Hargeisa Egal International Airport in Somaliland upon her return from Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, for promoting the idea of a united Somalia. She was charged on March 6 and sentenced to three years in prison on April 15 for "bringing the nation or the state into contempt" under Article 219(2) of the Penal Code.
Somaliland self-declared independence in 1991, although the international community still recognises it as an autonomous region of Somalia. Somaliland authorities are sensitive about matters and opinions related to unification with Somalia.
Said Teldah Mawarire, CIVICUS Advocacy and Campaigns officer: “The conviction of Nacima Abwaan Qorane is extremely worrying and demonstrates how the authorities in Somaliland have systematically silenced freedom of expression in the region.”
“Speaking up peacefully on a national issue should never be a crime. CIVICUS calls for the verdict to be quashed and for Nacima’s immediate and unconditional release,” said Mawarire.
“The right to freedom of expression is guaranteed in the Somaliland constitution as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Instead of criminalising artists, activists and journalists, the authorities must immediately take steps to protect them, so they can carry out their legitimate work.”
A number of other artists have been arrested in Somaliland in recent years. Musician Nimcaan Hilaac was arrested in 2017 in Somaliland after having spent two years living in Mogadishu to promote his musical career. In 2015, four members of the Horn Stars band from Somaliland were arrested upon their return to Somaliland on 27 September. This was after being accused of violating the 'sovereignty' of the autonomous region by sharing photos online.
Journalists have also been targeted for their critical reporting. Most recently, on 17 February, Mohamed Aabi Digaale, the Hargeisa bureau chief for the London-based Universal TV, was arbitrarily arrested and held without charged for more than a week because of his reporting. According to the Somaliland Journalist Association, more than 30 journalists were arrested and detained by authorities in Somaliland in 2017 for criticising the government. The ongoing persecution of journalists and artists is enhanced by the fact that the judiciary is not fully independent and does not adhere to human rights standards enshrined in the constitution.
CIVICUS calls on the authorities in Somaliland to overturn the conviction of Nacima Abwaan Qorane, drop all charges against her and release all other activists and journalists currently detained for simply reporting on the actions of the government.
- Follow and support Nacima Abwaan Qorane on Twitter @NacimaAbwaan