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COMMENTARY: CAUGHT BETWEEN HARD ROCK AND A HARD PLACE

COMMENTARY BY
M.M. AFRAH
Reporting from Ottawa (Canada)
10th March. 2002

CAUGHT BETWEEN HARD ROCK AND A HARD PLACE
Email: afrah95@hotmail.com
M. M. Afrah

People, especially those with Muslim names or those who wear turbans and beards or look like Middle eastern are caught between a hard rock and a hard place trying to survive in predominantly Christian countries (North America and Western Europe), without being apprehended for belonging to a terrorist organization.

Observers say that even Sikhs with their long beards and turbans have been in danger of being arrested because they looked like members of the al-Qaeda terrorist network led by Osama bin Laden! Many innocent people are languishing in jails and police holding cells without access to their families and lawyers because they had Muslim names, or looked like Arabs in appearances. Many are deported to countries they had never seen or left with their parents when they were babies or toddlers due to a brutal civil war that still persists today.

"IT IS ILLEGAL TO DEPORT CITIZENS"-- AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL

Recently some 30 American-Somalis living and working legally in the United States have been deported to Somalia without charge or reason. All were shackled together on the aircraft and when they complained they were beaten and drugged. According to news agencies, all medications were taken from them, including insulin from diabetes and anti-depressants, causing anxiety among the users.

"They kept asking us if we knew Al-itihaad," one of them told a press conference on arrival in Djibouti, adding that most of them left Somalia in 1978 and became American citizens. Many of them hardly speak the Somali language or knew anybody in the war-ravaged country. Unarmed, with no money or documents (Their American documents have been impounded by the US Air Marshals and the FBI before boarding the aircraft) they are stranded and are unable to hire bodyguards to protect them in a country where the gun rules - a country where gunmen decide who eats or starves. Their families are desperate to know their whereabouts as they were secretly whisked out of the US. It is illegal to deport citizens to a country without a central government, such as Somalia. For some strange reason the story has received little attention in the Western media or human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International.

"They kidnapped my son. I didn't even know he'd been deported. I was told nothing," lamented the father of a 20 year-old who was a university student in Seattle.

A DAMNING REPORT

The Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) based in Toronto recently issued a damning report about laws that erodes rights of the individual. The CJFE report says: "An increasingly number of countries are responding to September 11 in ways which erode rights. Indeed many governments are using the war on terrorism to further clamp down on critical voices within their own countries, including writers, journalists, political dissidents and even ordinary citizens.

The USA PATRIOT ACT signed into law October 26, 2001 gives the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) extensive powers wiretap anyone suspected of working with terrorists; read and monitor mail and email (they are free to read or print this article!), access to business records (freezing bank accounts); indefinitely detain citizens and conduct secret searches. The law gives the Central Intelligence Agency (The CIA) authorities to obtain all Federal Grand Jury information, including police records, wiretap transcripts and testimony without court order.

In Britain the law passed by parliament in December 2001 authorizes prolonged detention of suspects even when no charges are laid - is a violation of the European Human Rights, which Britain is a signatory. The law allows wiretapping and surveillances of Internet correspondences.

Similar laws are passed in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Belgium and other European countries. Individuals and lawful charities are being mistakenly named as "terrorists" due to errors, or malice or unsuccessful rigid interpretation.

CJFE believes that true security depends on rigorous respect for civil liberty. Restrictions on freedom of expression, here in Canada (Bill C-36) or elsewhere around the world from enhancing security are likely to breed insecurity, as unpopular ideas whose expression runs the risk of attracting attention from law-enforcement agencies are driven into the shadows. Security measures that threaten freedom of expression could have the effect of forcing dissent underground, perhaps making legitimate dissent take forms that represent danger to society."

Close to home, Ethiopia, exploiting the war against terrorism, has been pointing the finger at Somalia for obvious reason - hoping to get the old dash (hawl-fududeyn) and a pat on the back from Washington. The Tigrean regime in Addis Ababa alleges that Somalia is an open invitation to international terrorism. I have been saying all along that there are of course terrorists in Somalia, but these are homegrown who decimated the country and committed genocide against unarmed civilians. For many of us who lived under the shadow of their guns, regard them as more lethal and ruthless than the international terrorists. Experts on Somali affairs repeatedly classified Al-itihaad "as a group that ran out steam" and had never engaged in international terrorism, save their futile skirmishes with Ethiopia in the 1980s and early 1990s.

M.M. Afrah 2001
Email: afrah95@hotmail.com

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Mr. Afrah is an outspoken Author/Journalist and a member of the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) and the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). He contributes hard-hitting articles to Canadian and international newspapers and magazines on the Somalia situation "through the eyes of a man who covered the country for more than two decades".

Many of us remember his critical articles in his weekly English language HEEGAN newspaper, despite a mandatory self-censorship introduced by Guddiga Baarista Hisbiga Xisbiga Hantiwadaagga Somaaliyeed in 1984 and the dreaded NSS. I am very proud to know that Mr. Afrah openly defied the draconian censorship laws and went ahead to write what he thought was wrong in the country. He received several death threats from the warlords and was briefly held hostage by gunmen in 1993. But he remained defiant and continued to send his stories of carnage and destruction to Reuters news agency. He still is!
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