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Somaliland poet Abdirahman Abees sentenced amid free speech concerns

Wednesday February 7, 2024


Hargeisa (HOL) - A court in Hargeisa District sentenced poet Abdirahman Aden Ibrahim, also known as Abdirahman Abees, to 18 months in prison on Tuesday. This verdict has intensified global concern regarding Somaliland's respect for freedom of speech and human rights. Abees, an outspoken critic of President Muse Bihi's government, was detained on Tuesday, igniting discussions about the state's tolerance for opposition.

Abdirahman Abees, a British-Somali dual national, has been a prominent advocate for human rights through his poetry. His arrest followed accusations from his father of neglect, who stated his actions were to seek rehabilitation for his son. In contrast, Abees's mother contested this in a statement to MMTV, arguing the government was behind her son's arrest, aiming to discredit him due to his opposition to President Bihi's regime.

Earlier this month, he launched his latest work, "Mayal," which criticizes the Somaliland government and calls for prison and criminal justice reforms. The book, previously banned by the government, was only recently allowed to be republished, indicating a momentary easing in government restrictions on dissent.

The charges against Abees for "insulting the police and government" have attracted significant criticism, with allegations that he was denied legal counsel.

Khadar Hussein Abdi, the party's General Secretary, denounced the government's handling of the case, arguing that the arrest and swift sentencing of Abees reflect a broader government strategy under Muse Bihi to undermine societal foundations, particularly family units. Abdi criticized the lack of due process in Abees's rapid arrest and sentencing.

Abdi also noted the excessive severity of Abees's sentence, arguing that allegations of parental neglect by the poet's father do not justify a prison term beyond six months under local laws.

Abees's detention is part of a broader trend of repression in Somaliland, with the government tightening its grip on journalists, poets, and critics since the current administration assumed power. Abees had been arrested in January 2019 for similar reasons.

The international community has urged Somaliland authorities to respect and protect freedom of speech, a fundamental right guaranteed by Somaliland's 2001 Constitution but undermined by its penal code's broad and vague criminal offences, including spurious charges such as "insulting the police and the government."


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