Somalia’s intelligence agency held five staff members of a Mogadishu-based policy center for almost a month. Their experiences – including no access to lawyers and no formal charges – show the agency’s complete disregard for basic due process.

The five were finally released last week, on September 6.

Prisoners at Mogadishu Central Prison watch as a guard walks pass their cell in December 2013. Most of the military court’s hearings in Mogadishu take place inside the prison, which limits access to hearings for relatives and independent monitors.

© Tobin Jones
 
On July 21, agents of the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) arrested the men at the offices of the Mogadishu Center for Research and Studies, which focuses on political analysis and commentary primarily for an Arabic-speaking audience. NISA held Abdiwahab Ali Mumin, the center’s chairman, along with employees Abdirahman Ibrahim Abdi, Shafie Abdulaziz, Mohamed Said Mire, and Abdirahim Musa without charge.

Under Somali law, NISA is not legally empowered to detain anyone. Yet they do, often for prolonged periods and without judicial review. Like many people detained by NISA, the five were denied access to legal counsel.

On September 4, the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) issued its first-ever public human rights report, which corroborates NISA’s abuses, including repressing the rights to free speech and peaceful assembly.

While the five were in detention, I contacted NISA to clarify the allegations against them and whether formal charges had been brought. I couldn’t get an answer to either question.

On August 15, NISA transferred them to military court headquarters, where they were questioned. This raised grave concerns that they would be tried before a military court. Both African and international human rights treaties largely prohibit military trials of civilians. Moreover, Somalia’s military courts, as we have repeatedly documented, are grossly unfair.

Instead, after questioning, the five were transferred to Mogadishu Central Prison – and they were held for an additional three weeks. They are now free but there is no avenue for them to press for an investigation into NISA’s abusive actions if they wanted to, let alone prosecutions of those responsible.

The government needs to rein in NISA by establishing credible and impartial oversight mechanisms. It should also hold officials, regardless of rank, to account and focus on building justice institutions that respect the rule of law and fundamental rights.