156 Youngsters Sentenced By Controversial Panel But the Move is
Hargeisa, May 22, 2004 (SL Times) – Thousands of people who converged
on Hargeisa’s Khayria Square last Tuesday morning to listen to a
speech that President Dahir Rayale Kahin was scheduled to give on the
occasion of the 13th anniversary of the 18th May Independence Day,
were in for disappointment when they became unable to hear what the
Somaliland leader was saying due to a public address system failure.
Mr. Rayale and his entourage arrived in Khayria Square at 7:45 in the
morning and stayed there until around 8:30 before returning back to
As the president began to speak from a podium built adjacent to the
front of the Khayria building, the loudspeakers failed to function.
The crowd became restive from the loss of sound and some people
started to make loud noises as if trying to draw attention to the
inaudibility of the president’s voice. Mr. Rayale reacted by
interrupting his speech several times to ask the crowd if they could
hear him. An attempt to repair the fault in the public address system
ended unsuccessfully after a man shown around by the minister of
information as a standby technician actually turned out to be a
gardener at the ministry’s offices.
When a segment of the crowd got noisy, policemen using large wooden
sticks moved in, ostensibly to restore calm. Many people, including a
pregnant woman, were seen being beaten by policemen.
On taking notice of the police's behavior, President Rayale was
prompted to shout loudly into the microphone an instruction for
policemen “to leave the people alone”. He also pleaded with the
crowd to stay calm. However the president’s voice was lost in the
loud cracking noise made by a sea of people being jolted backward and
forward by hundreds of policemen. The situation was about to get out
of control when President Rayale ended his speech. The president was
escorted by at least a dozen of technicals on the way to Khayria and
back. Both on arriving and leaving, his fast moving entourage of
vehicles barely missed crashing into the crowd only because people
were quick to get out of the way. This behavior angered many people.
“Our leaders need security protection but that doesn’t mean that they
have the right to endanger the lives of their own people,” said a
woman who waited for 2 hours to hear Rayale’s speech, marking the day
when Somaliland restored its sovereignty 13 years ago.
A former security officer commenting on the same matter observed:
“They are doing things in an unprofessional way because by reckless
driving you do not only put the lives of innocent civilians in danger
but also the lives of leaders you are supposed to protect”.
Many youngsters stayed at Khayria Square long after the 18th May
celebration ceremonies ended. Several hundreds of them gathered
together to stage a demonstration in protest against government
corruption, unemployment and water shortages. The demonstrators
then took the main road leading to President Rayale’s office.
The march was soon joined by gangs of teenagers and street-
boys who went on rampage, causing damage and looting some
properties. The police tried to disperse the march by firing live
bullets over the demonstrators. As the crowd neared the Presidency,
additional police reinforcement arrived. The presidential security
guards were also called in to help in putting down the rioting.
By mid-day on Tuesday over 180 youngsters including many school
children were arrested for taking part in an illegal demonstration
and disturbing public order. A controversial panel called the
Hargeisa Regional Security Committee sat in the afternoon to sentence
153 of the detainees to 6 months in prison each while another 3
received one year prison term each. The rest of the detainees were
Parents who awaited in front of Hargeisa Central Police Station in
the hope that their children would be released, were shocked when
told that their loved-ones were going to be taken to Mandhera prison,
about 100km east of Hargeisa. By 7:30 p.m. buses carrying the
youngsters emerged from the police station. Mothers wept after the
police refused to let them talk to their children. “These are Faqash,”
shouted many of them.
Meanwhile, the Somaliland human rights group Samo-talis described the
sentencing of the detainees by the regional security committee as
illegal. The group called upon the Somaliland authorities to
immediately release the detainees. In a 1999 decision, the Somaliland
House of Representatives banned the role of security committees. Both
under late president Egal and current President Rayale, the
government never abolished this security apparatus. Security
committees were formed under the “Emergency law” introduced during
the time of dictator Siyad Barre. The law gave security committees
the power to make arbitrary arrests and trials. The Somaliland
government invokes this law routinely. But most legal experts
consider the functions of this body as unconstitutional. Only two
weeks ago, the KULMIYE opposition party demanded the security
committees be abolished. Many parents were devastated by the fact
that their children were going to miss their public exams which began
last Thursday throughout Somaliland.