Boqor Osman Aw Mahmoud, popularly known as Buurmadow, is one of the most prominent traditional leaders in Somaliland. He was arrested upon his arrival at Hargeisa Airport on March 15, 2012 and he is still in prison as this piece goes to the press.
Although the government has yet to announce the case against him, Boqor Buurmadow is known to have been a fierce critic of Somaliland government and has at several times questioned the health and mental ability of President Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo to lead the country.
One can argue that Boqor Buurmadow has expressed his criticism with some acerbity, but since when was politics a nice game. Any politician who doesn’t take his opponents’ mudslinging and muckraking in stride does not deserve to be in a leadership position. And all that Boqor Buurmadow did was to exercise his legitimate right as a Somaliland citizen and a well known traditional leader, who played a pivotal role in the peace building of the region, to publicly express his opinion about the government’s performance and the President’s ability to lead. And by imprisoning him, the government might be indirectly proving him right.
According to Article 19 of the UN Human Rights Charter: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
The Somaliland Constitution also allows citizens in article 32: “Every citizen shall have the freedom, in accordance with the law, to express his opinions orally, visually, artistically or in writing or in any other way.”
We don’t know how the lawyers would interpret the expression “In accordance with the law…” which could be the tricky part that the government uses to subdue and stifle its political opponents, but even to use such a flimsy and ambiguous statement to intimidate dissent and freedom of speech is an unacceptable behavior by a government that has come to power under the slogans of democracy and freedom.
The strong voice of Boqor Buurmadow in an atmosphere that is eerily becoming devoid of any active opposition against the government was a healthy phenomenon and a test to the government’s tolerance and adherence to the democratic norms that brought it to power.
But in the less than two years that it has been in power, the Silanyo government has demonstrated its uneasiness for dissent, its hatred for free media and its nervousness against any sort of criticism.
As a government that came to power on the shoulders of the media, Silanyo administration has shown no respect for freedom of the press. Dozens of journalists have been arrested and some of them badly tortured. The latest one of them was a young reporter, Mohamed Abdirahman Ismail who was brutally beaten and his ribs broken in the prison of Borama, Awdal Region. Looking at the government’s hostility to freedom of speech and free press, one might be forgiven to assume that maybe it is their extensive use of free press during their opposition days that have taught them that “it is free speech, stupid” and they are freaking out that if might also bring them down.
If we take history as a teacher, one can see that the case of Boqor Buurmadow and the government’s rough treatment of the media and freedom of expression, are the first signs of tyranny which I hope is not what either President Silanyo, a former rebel fighter against dictatorship, or the people of Somaliland who had a bitter experience with suppression of dissenting opinion and tyranny desire to achieve.
Boqor Buurmadow is not the first traditional elder to be unlawfully imprisoned for expressing his opinion, but he is the first one to be dragged as a criminal from the airport and humiliated before foreign and domestic travelers. And if he is not released immediately with a sincere apology from the government, he will become the first Somaliland prisoner of conscience and Silanyo government will be accountable to the damage and consequences that such an ill thought action will cause to the reputation of Somaliland.