August 9, 2007 / 9:21 AM / 11 years ago

Rights group urges release of Somaliland prisoners

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Amnesty International has called for the release of three opposition politicians arrested in the breakaway Somali territory of Somaliland in a move that could hurt the region’s campaign for international recognition.

“Amnesty International considers these three people to be prisoners of conscience,” the British-based international human rights group said in a statement this week on the detention of the three for trying to form a political party.

“It is concerned that they may be detained without charge or trial for a prolonged period, or subjected to an unfair trial.”

Security forces arrested the leader of the Qaran political association, Mohamed Abdi Gaboose, and his deputies Mohamed Hashi Elmi and Jamal Aideed Ibrahim, and charged them with founding an illegal organisation and creating instability.

“We call for the immediate and unconditional release of the three leaders of an emergent opposition party,” Amnesty added of the July 28 roundup in Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland.

The three have not been charged and have been held incommunicado in Mandera prison 45 miles (70 km) outside Hargeisa since last week, Amnesty said.

The government of Somaliland — which prides itself on democratic advances since declaring independence in 1991 — only permits three political parties by law.

Officials were unavailable to comment on the arrests.

The region in northwest Somalia bordering Ethiopia broke away from the rest of Somalia after warlords overthrew former military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre 16 years ago.

Despite being widely praised abroad for its multi-party elections and relative security compared to the rest of Somalia, Somaliland has not yet been formally recognised as independent by any other nation or major international body.

Widespread sympathy for its cause could be hurt by the arrests, diplomats said.

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