Somalilandsun: The tiny Christian community in Muslim majority Somaliland are uncertain of what to expect in relations to the observation of their belief and security.
Today Five people belonging to the Ethiopian Community were remanded in the custody of police for seven days by the Hargeisa District court.
This long running saga of arrest and release between the Somaliland police and Christians usually of Ethiopian origin is befuddling because a large portion of the over 100,000 strong Ethiopian Community is in the country legally.
At the same time the government and even citizens are Cognizant of their Christianity and even has in fulfilment of protection of human rights as enshrined in the constitution facilitated the observation of Christian worship at the St Anthony Padua church in its capital Hargeisa.
So why legalize the in country residence of foreigners whose Adherence to Christianity is official and then deny or constrain their worship as long as it does not ensue with evangelization or propagation to a Muslim as the law stipulates
So what is now current is the fact that a number of Christians all of them foreigners and mainly from neighbouring Ethiopia have in the recent past been arrested, all of them in the capital Hargeisa.
The latest incident occurred in the morning of 15th of this February when CID officers arrested three prominent members of Ethiopian community who operate businesses around the Toghdeer area with one being adjacent to the Tima’ade basketball grounds and another opposite.
The same morning the crime investigators didn’t pause with the Toghdeer area arrests but shifted focus to Jiggiga year (little Jigjiga) estate of Kodhbur district in the west of the city where other two members of the Ethiopian Community were apprehended.
The five join others arrested in late January at the central police station and as they cool their horses as guests of the state speculation is rife over reasons leading to their now new circumstances.
So what do the ten have in common apart from being of Ethiopian origin, simple they are all Christians and if the initial January arrests is anything to go by as per reports by Barnabas Fund an international organization that works in defence of persecuted Christians, then they are being held on suspicion or under investigation for propagating Christianity.
In Somaliland Islam is the official religion with over 99.8% of the population as adherents, and though article 33 of her constitution states that individuals have the right to freedom of belief, however, the constitution also prohibits Muslims from converting to another religion, bars the propagation of any religion other than Islam and stipulates all laws in the country must comply with the general principles of sharia (Islamic law).
In its report of the January arrests in which a lactating woman of a new born baby and her spouse were among five Christians Arrested in Hargeisa the https://barnabasfund.org informed that- On 21 January, police from the capital Hargeisa arrested and detained in custody Mohamed and Hamdi with their baby, as well as Aster, an Ethiopian woman.
The following day, police searched the couple’s home, seizing material belonging to them and also arrested another woman who was living with them.
Adding that their lawyer said that on his initial visit they all appeared in good health and were being well treated. However, he has since been denied access, despite his verbal complaint and subsequent assurances from the public prosecutor’s office.
The continued detention of the January five is according to Somaliland law legal since Prosecutors were granted extra time on 10 February to detain them in custody by the Hargeisa regional court to facilitate investigation of their suspected crime of “spreading Christianity”.
The time extension allows prosecutors up to 45 days from the date of the arrests in January to complete their investigation and file charges and if the latest arrests are related to evangelization then the legal timeframe accorded the prosecution shall apply.
This is not the first time and most likely not the last for Christians residents in Somaliland and suspected of evangelization to be arrested but what the anomaly is, is the fact that the police to do not pursue matters to the full legal extend, that is arraign them for subsequent sentencing or acquittal.
An example is the 21st September 2020 arrest of a couple, who have three children, after police found Christian material at their home and having made several appearances in the Maroodi-Jeex regional court, they were unexpectedly released and ordered to be deported.
The couple’s lawyer noted that the decision came after European government representatives raised the case with the Ministry of Religious Affairs
Their deportation to Mogadishu Somalia was successfully effected on November 1st raising great concern among the small Christian community in the country of which most are reported to have decamped.
According to the court the couple were found to be Apostate in addition to proven evangelization activities.
This is just one example of the many where upon arrest of Christians for either being apostate or religious propagation ,prosecutors fail to pursue matters to the full legal conclusion as enshrined in the Somaliland Constitution and subsequent penal code thus a continuation of the great debate “The Church in Hargeisa, Evangelization or Humble Worship”
This debate ensued in March 2017 when after renovation the Hargeisa based St Anthony Padua the oldest church in Somaliland officially opened its doors for worship by adherents of the Catholic faith, resident in the country.
Though hailed international as another exemplification of the successful Somaliland democratization process, an apt constitution that protects all human rights ,locally the matter didn’t rest well forcing the Government to respond
With the Government accused of facilitating overt Christian evangelization the minster of religious affairs Sheikh Khalil Abdilahi Ahmed said “We are not aware thus there is nothing true about Christianity being propagated in the nation through either tailored curricula or other means” adding that “These are demonic allegations by peddlers of lies that are bent on sowing seeds of discord in the community”,
Thus despite the number of reported arrests now and then the tiny Christian community in the Muslim majority republic of Somaliland mostly composed of foreigners is free to exercise, rights to freedom of worship as long as evangelization activities are not in the menu.
But while this open door policy and tolerance for religious diversity exist, a clear line separating normal worship and propagation of a religious tenet other than Islamic needs to be clearly defined in order to escape never ending allegations that Somaliland is a bastion of Christian Persecution.
In the meantime it’s hoped that police investigations shall as usual be undertaken diligently and without bias as to the suspected allegations of “spreading Christianity” against the now in custody ten, leading to either release or Arraignment in court.
In case of the later which means that police investigations have unearthed sufficient evidence then it shall be wise to ensure they face the full legal parameters and unwise to deport them.
The police must ensure that prosecutors have access as witness of any Somaliland citizen, allegedly now apostate having been converted by the ten Ethiopians now in custody.
In the meantime, lest we forget some of those currently in custody though non citizens, are known to be refugees under UNHCR protection that has seen them granted Resettlement in Somaliland.
Their legal residence is therefore a matter of concern if matters resort to deportation, since they have Somaliland as their adoptive home and country, literally they are Ethio-Somalilanders just as we have Britons of Somaliland origin.
Now most perplexing is “why welcome foreigners known to be adherents to other faiths, mostly Christian into the country and despite all their constitutionally enshrined rights to belief, force them to be closet worshippers living in daily fear?
It is illogic to welcome expatriates and other foreigners in our country while demanding that they become closet worshippers”
While any religious matter seen to as hostile to Islam is undoubtedly a very serious national issue thus one to walk through carefully and with tact, what remains is the big question “What is with this continued arrest of Christians in Somaliland”?
Is it Persecution , Non- Muslim Intolerance or Law Enforcement? Seriously its time for Somaliland to out their act right or this issue which remains the main blight to an internationally acclaimed aptness in all fronts even without Recognition as a sovereign nation.