Freedom bells ring: Somaliland releases Oromo man from prison, 20 years later


HARGEISA, Somaliland - At times it can sound like a movie, but for Mohamed Muse Gamteesa, getting freedom despite the many years in prison would probably be a sigh of relief, given the pains he may have undergone for committing a crime in a foreign nation.

In 2001, Gamteesa, an Oromo from Ethiopia was sentenced to eight years in prison for cold murder of his fellow countryman in Hargeisa, the capital of secessionist Somaliland, but could not be released after the family refused to bail him out, forcing the court to slap him with 12 more years.

But on Saturday, Gamteesa was freed from the prison, which had become more of his home, ending two decades of prison life in a foreign country, and probably, at the time the Horn of Africa is witnessing sweeping changes, ranging from restoration of democracy in his motherland and subsequent civil war in Tigray, not forgetting the Al-Shabaab menace, in a country he spent prison life.

At the time he committed the heinous crime, Gamteesa narrated to the BBC Somali Service, he was aged 21, without a wife or children, but he now leaves as a 40-year-old grown-up, with so much life ahead of him, coupled with the stigma that emanates from abandonment by his own family.

"When I was arrested in 2001, I was 21 years old and now in 2021, I am 40 years old. I had no wife, then "I haven’t seen my town for two decades," he told the BBC's Somali Service.

Gamteesa added: "Everyone was saying I will pay the blood money and they didn’t, and that led to my extended imprisonment." "My family thinks I am dead. I have been forgotten a long time ago. I have nothing to do with it now," he said, adding that he did not give up hope in Allah.

His release comes at the time Ethiopia is engulfed in various political challenges that were triggered by social-economic and democratic reforms engineered by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, but which have precipitated a civil war, as witnessed in Tigray. On the other hand, Somalia is battling with the rise of violent extremism.

Even with that, Somalia is also still battling to regain the Somaliland territory, which had declared self-independence in 1991. In Hargeisa, freedom of speech and worship also remains badly impaired given strict regulations.

But getting freedom from prison was not easy for Gamteesa. Two Muslim friends Abdimalik Muse Coldon, a journalist and philanthropist Abdimanan Mohamed Yusuf, who is also the owner of Astan TV based in Mogadishu, bailed him out after meeting him in prison where they had been detained in Hargeisa.

During their time in the prison, Coldon and Yusuf promised that when they regain their freedom, they would work to get him out. Of course, it is a promise that they realized and they released me from the jail, following Saturday's events.

According to Yusuf, they paid $ 7,000 to the Ganteesa, which will now go directly to the family of the victim as compensation. The family was asking for huge compensation for them to sign documents that would see the prisoner out of jail.

Abdimalik, the leader of the "Help These People" campaign for the empowerment of the poor, pushed for the release of Mohamed Muse, played an integral role in pushing for the release of Gamteesa, who is now poised to start a new life.

"I was delighted when I was told I would be released. In the two months, I was waiting for my release, I fell asleep because of joy," he said in an interview with the BBC Somali Service.

Lawyer Guled Dafac who welcomed Mr. Gamteesa's release called on Somaliland authorities to work for the release of "people who may be detained for less than $100" given that such a provision is anchored in the law.

Mohamed Muse Gamteesa, who was locked in room No. 1 in Block A during his detention, was an Imam and a Mu'adin, according to his prison colleagues who noted that there were other victims who need support.


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