Hargeisa(ANN)-Yesterday, President Muse Bihi Abdi took action to shield Somaliland from the COVID19 pandemic. With confirmed cases in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya, the President ordered the closure of schools, banned public gatherings and imposed initial travel restrictions for the next month to help keep the public safe.
These decisive acts are commendable. We urge President Muse to also take immediate action to protect persons detained in Somaliland’s police stations and prisons.
Incarcerated people are particularly vulnerable to pandemics. In Somaliland, detainees at both prisons and police stations are held in cells with dozens of other people and have very limited access to basic sanitation items like soap and clean water.
When one person becomes sick, others in the facility, including police and prison officers, as well as visitors, are at high risk of contracting the illness. This will be the case in the event someone infected with the coronavirus enters Somaliland’s police stations or prisons. It will spread rapidly amongst the population. And, with people moving in and out of prisons and police stations on a daily basis, any outbreak inside could cause the virus to spread to the general population.
Countries with outbreaks of COVID-19 are taking measures to respond to this threat by reducing the numbers of people detained. Iran has released 85,000 prisoners on bail, mostly non-violent offenders serving short prison sentences. In the United States, police officers in some states have been instructed only to make an arrest and bring people into custody if absolutely necessary.
Horizon is protecting its staff and clients who are detained by mandating a work from home policy for now.
Our team is providing legal assistance to detainees and their families over the phone. We call on President Muse to impose extra measures immediately by ordering the conditional release on bail of detained persons who have not committed serious and violent offences, especially pregnant prisoners and prisoners who are already ill, and by informing the police to only arrest persons in critical situations.
Additional soap should be provided to all police stations and prisons. Taking action now will help protect those who are detained and the general population as a whole.