Open Letter to the BBC
Re: BBC-Somali Discussion on Human Rights Watch’s July 5th, 2018 Jail Ogaden Report
On 6th July 2018 at 15:00 GMT, BBC-Somali hosted a live discussion on Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) report on Jail Ogaden released on 5th July 2018. The report is titled ‘We are like the Dead: Torture and other Human Rights Abuses in Jail Ogaden, Somali Regional State, Ethiopia’ which describes a horrific pattern of abuse, torture and rape in one of Ethiopia’s most notorious prisons. Thousands of prisoners are held without access to a lawyer, family or medical care and without being charged of a single crime, most are civilians held illegally for suspected support of rebel groups in the region. A clear majority of detainees are also political prisoners associated with the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF).
In attempt to provide a ‘balanced’ and ‘impartial’ discussion on the release of Human Rights Watch’s new report, Abdi Iley’s administration in Jigjiga provided a spokesperson denying the findings of the report entirely. To strengthen their case, they forced Muhumed Ani- a political prisoner to speak on the conditions of the prison. Muhumed Ani spent 4 years in Jail Ogaden. In February 2014, he was captured by the Somali military in a town called Guri Ceel in Somalia and was handed over to Ethiopian and Liyu Police forces. Four years later in February 2018 hundreds of ONLF prisoners were released from Jail Ogaden only to be sent to labor camps in Bayaxow near Godey as a form of continued punishment and imprisonment. As a high-profile political prisoner, the administration chose to weaponize the symbol of Muhumed Ani (as a rebel leader) to discredit the findings on the Jail Ogaden report which has caused negative publicity for Abdi Iley’s administration in just 24 hours. As such, he was transported from Bayaxow to Jigjiga and forced to participate in the BBC interview.
During his interview with BBC’s Mowlid Haji which lasted a few minutes, Muhumed Ani consistently evaded giving direct answers to the questions posed on this show. He repeatedly proclaimed: ‘I don't know anything about this report’ while his tone of voice and mannerism indicated a sense of clear distress and coercion. Mowlid Haji continued to persistently ask Muhumed Ani questions about his experiences even though he knew that Muhumed Ani was surrounded by government officials and thus unable to speak freely.
The BBC Somali service has endangered the life of Muhumed Ani to the brink of death, just hours after the interview he was abducted by Mukhtar Subane- a high ranking officer of the notorious Liyu Police paramilitary group to a remote location. According to close family members, Muhumed Ani is currently missing and strongly believed to be in a critical condition.
This interview demonstrated clear violations of basic journalistic and ethical standards. Mowlid Haji and BBC- Somali knowingly and recklessly endangered the life Muhmmed Ani. The Human Rights Watch report among similar reports have independently verified the systemic culture and policy of repression and violence in the Somali Region. This should have been enough to deem Muhumed Ani’s participation in the discussion as coerced, and he should not have been interviewed for his own safety and security. We call on the BBC to launch an urgent investigation into this piece of journalistic material which has already incited physical harm and violence, and which may escalate further endangering Muhumed Ani’s family and other prisoners too.