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Kenya angers Somalia by hosting minister who escaped detention

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WALTER MENYA

By WALTER MENYA
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MANASE OTSIALO

By MANASE OTSIALO
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The already strained diplomatic relations between Kenya and Somalia are once again being tested, with Nairobi accused of harbouring fugitive Jubbaland security minister Abdirashid Hassan Abdinur.

Mr Abdinur, also known as Abdirashid Janan, is alleged to have escaped on January 28 from a Mogadishu prison, where he had been held since August 31, 2019 on accusations of “grave human rights violations and killing civilians in Gedo Region”.

A well-placed security source in Mandera said the minister entered Kenya through Bulahawa, narrowly escaping Somalia security forces that had been chasing him.

The fugitive minister has been in Kenya since then, initially taking refuge in Nairobi.

Currently, Mr Abdinur is reported to be hiding in a Mandera hotel. He arrived at the hotel on Tuesday afternoon and his security was immediately taken over by Kenyan agencies.

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As a result of these reports, Somalia is furious for what it considers interference by Nairobi with its internal affairs.

In a statement, the government of Somalia warned that harbouring the wanted minister by any neighbouring country could jeopardise “good relations”.

“The Federal Republic of Somalia places great importance on maintaining good relations with its neighbouring countries and the harbouring of a dangerous fugitive could seriously endanger the good relations that have existed between Kenya and Somalia,” read the statement.

The Somali Police Force says it is hopeful that Kenya will adhere to calls from the Somali government as well as international human rights agencies and arrest and extradite Mr Abdinur.

Somalia has gone further to enlist the help of Interpol in apprehending Mr Abdinur.

He is wanted for several serious crimes, including international human rights violation, massacre of innocent civilians and illegally escaping government custody.

“The Federal Government of Somalia considers the fugitive a grave danger to the Somali people and want him extradited to Somalia to allow for due process to be completed,” read a statement issued by Deputy Police Commissioner-General Sakia Hussein.

International human rights opinion also seems to favour Somalia after Amnesty International called on Kenya to arrest and handover the fugitive, saying he “must be returned to face justice”.

“The Kenyan authorities must immediately arrest and hand him over to the Federal Government of Somalia, who should conduct his trial in a manner that meets international fair trial standards, without any further delays,” said Seif Magango, Amnesty’s Deputy Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.

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“Victims of his alleged crimes have waited patiently for justice and their hopes must not be frustrated.”

But Principal Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Macharia Kamau, told the Nation that only Kenya’s security forces can comment on the matter.

“This matter is not in our hands. I suggest you contact those who might know about it, the security forces,” the PS said.

Mr Abdinur was arrested upon his arrival in Mogadishu from the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, and later placed in detention.

At the time of his arrest, Jubbaland’s administration described the arrest as “illegal” and considered it a “kidnapping”.

In the 2016 and 2017 United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea reports, the minister was accused of human rights abuses between 2014 and 2015.

The 2016 report stated that Mr Abdinur “has been responsible for the targeting of civilians contrary to international law, as well as conduct constituting obstruction of humanitarian assistance”.

“It has also been alleged that Abdirashid has participated in activities that undermine peace and security more broadly, including attempting to overrule legitimately appointed local authorities,” the report added.

According to Amnesty International’s account of events, after his arrest, Mr Abdinur was arraigned at the Banadir Regional Court in Mogadishu on October 6, and thereafter detained until his escape last week.

Mr Abdinur is the second high ranking government official from Jubbaland to seek refuge in Mandera due to security concerns.

Somalia’s Ministry of Information made it clear in a statement on February 5 that the matter could exacerbate the already strained relations with Kenya.

“The Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) is dismayed by the political and security interference of the Kenyan Government in Somalia, which is not good for relations between the two countries and its people, and the resolution of regional problems,” the statement said.

“The FGS is always looking for a good neighbour, respectful and committed to peaceful co-existence, and assures its citizens that they will not tolerate interference and violence, which is not in the best interests of the state and in civilian life,” it added.

The relationship between Kenya and Somalia has been on the rocks since Somalia rejected overtures from Nairobi to have a maritime dispute between the two countries settled through negotiations.

Instead, Somalia moved to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which is expected to render its decision in

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US judge rejects transfers, release from virus-hit Chicago jail

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AFP

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A Chicago judge on Thursday rejected a bid by inmates to be released or transferred from a jail housing 4,500 detainees which has emerged as one of the largest coronavirus clusters in the US.

Cook County Jail in the US’s third-largest city has 276 inmates who have tested positive for Covid-19, along with 172 staff members of the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, which oversees the facility.

However, the jail acknowledged those numbers are likely an undercount, as the majority of its inmates have not been tested.

The jail has seen one prisoner death so far from complications of the virus, but lawyers had filed a petition before a federal court for mass transfers.

In a 37-page ruling handed down on Thursday, District Judge Matthew Kennelly ordered Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart to implement new policies to keep inmates safe but rejected the call for them to be moved en masse.

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Kennelly acknowledged the sheriff’s challenge, calling it “an extraordinary difficult task,” but ordered soap and sanitizer provided to inmates and staff, and facemasks for inmates in quarantine with Covid-19 symptoms.

The judge noted the infection rate in Cook County was 1.56 per 1,000 people. In the jail, as of Monday, it was 50 per 1,000 people, he wrote.

The lawsuit, filed April 3, sought a mass release or transfer of elderly and medically compromised inmates.

Dart has said his office has already taken steps to protect inmates and staff, while also releasing several hundred inmates charged with or convicted of non-violent crimes.

Dart said his dilemma is that 70 percent of inmates have either been convicted or are accused of violent crimes.

Jeffery Pendleton, 59, who was being held on drug and weapons charges, appears to have died from complications of COVID-19, Dart has said.

Pendleton, who had 15 previous convictions, including as a sex offender, was jailed because he could not come up with $5,000 — or ten percent of the $50,000 bond set by a judge.

The Cook County Public Defender’s Office filed an emergency motion for Pendleton’s release on March 26 but was denied, four days before he was hospitalized after testing positive for the virus.

“He was and always will be presumed innocent. He died awaiting for his day in court. He should have been sent home,” tweeted Amy Campanelli, an attorney at the Chicago Community Bond Fund, a group that advocates for the elimination of the cash bond system.

Along with releasing more inmates, Dart said on his website that he had taken steps to protect them. Measures included early screening and testing of detainees, and increasing availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitation supplies.

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“Detainees who test positive are isolated and receive thorough medical attention and cellmates are quarantined and monitored,” he said.

Dart also banned inmates’ families from visiting and requires attorneys and clergy members to be screened for virus symptoms.

Incoming inmates are housed in tiers where staff observe for symptoms for seven days before they are transferred to the general population. Cleaning has also increased through the jail and inmates are being educated about preventative hygiene.

Yet, those actions, along with creating an 500-bed quarantine facility and moving inmates from double cells to single cells to increase social distancing, did not stop the spread of the virus — nor has it satisfied staff who feel slighted by the focus on inmate safety.

“We have 150 staff members who have tested positive for the virus and everyone is saying we should release all the inmates. They get released, yet we have to stay,” said one sheriff’s deputy who has worked in the jail for nine years and spoke on condition of anonymity.

As for the inmates, he said only 60 have been moved to the 500-bed quarantine facility. Another worker at the jail confirmed that figure.

The sheriff’s deputy added that jail staff did not receive protective gear for two weeks after the first cases were identified at the facility and fears he might bring it home to his wife and children.

“Bringing the virus home is my biggest fear. I have nowhere to isolate away from my family unless I sleep in my car.”

The Cook County Sheriff’s spokesman denied that staff have not been provided with sanitation supplies or protective equipment, adding that front-line workers can get tested onsite.

“We are very concerned about the health and safety of our staff,” he said in a statement to AFP. “To say they don’t have supplies and don’t have an avenue to get them is completely false.”

“We remain in daily contact with the unions that represent staff members, and will continue to work with them to protect our employees and fulfill our obligation to provide a safe, secure jail.”

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In Jerusalem, Christians mark a sombre Easter

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AFP

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Eggs on the table and a toy rabbit on the dresser — with a few decorations, Palestinian Christian Sawsan Bitar attempts to salvage some normality from an Easter overshadowed by coronavirus.

In the Christian quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City that Bitar calls home, roads are deserted and most shops have been closed for two weeks.

All cultural sites in the Holy Land are shuttered, regardless of their religious affiliation, as authorities seek to forestall the spread of the deadly respiratory disease.

Christians will be prevented from congregating for the Easter service, whether this coming Sunday — as in the case of Bitar and fellow Catholic worshippers — or a week later on April 19, in line with the Orthodox Easter.

Despite wars and uprisings, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified and resurrected, has not been closed over Easter for at least a century, according to Palestinian historian Johnny Mansour.

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Bitar, who is in her sixties, says it is “depressing” that she will not be able to celebrate Easter in church.

Israel — which in 1967 occupied east Jerusalem and later annexed it — has confirmed over 9,700 coronavirus infections, with 79 dead from the respiratory disease.

On the Palestinian side, more than 250 cases have been confirmed, with one death.

Jerusalem is usually the vibrant heart of global Easter celebrations.

Last year, more than 25,000 people gathered near the Holy Sepulchre to attend Palm Sunday mass, which marks the start of the Easter week.

This year, the cobbled streets of the Christian quarter were silent and its dozens of churches were empty for Palm Sunday on April 5.

A lookalike of Jesus, with long hair, a white tunic and bare feet, praying with his bible on the steps of the church of the Sepulchre, cut a lonely figure.

Behind the heavy wooden doors of this holiest of Christian places, there were only 15 members of the clergy in attendance, said Ibrahim Shomali, spokesman for the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem.

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“But despite the difficult circumstances, there can be positives,” Shomali told AFP.

Streaming the mass direct online, 60,000 people watched, he said.

This Sunday, Easter mass will be broadcast on television and on social networks.

Only six monks will be present in the church, Shomali said.

Watching the mass online will be the only way Francis Gharfah will celebrate Easter this year.

A Palestinian from east Jerusalem, he left his usual decorations in their boxes and chose not to prepare traditional pastries.

“The situation is dramatic,” he told AFP, saying he fears for his job at an NGO due to the virus.

He was “very touched” by the images of Pope Francis celebrating Palm Sunday in an empty Saint Peter’s Basilica, accompanied only by a few religious men and women — each of them perched on separate benches.

“People are thirsty for spirituality,” said Shomali, who finds great solace in a “return of faith” in this dark time.

Bitar attempts to remain upbeat.

“Everything happens for a reason. I hope that we will be different people, that we will appreciate things differently” once the coronavirus crisis ends.

To mark this Easter, Bitar laid out a cloth printed with small yellow chicks and multi-coloured eggs at the entrance to her home.

Her family has created an improvised photo studio, her daughter and grandchildren squeezing into pictures surrounded by a rabbit and flowers.

But all the photos in the world will not be the same as attending church for Easter.

“We live five minutes from the Holy Sepulchre and we cannot go there,” she said sadly.

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US man arrested after beating mom over toilet paper

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AFP

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A California man was arrested this week after allegedly punching his mother — who had apparently hidden the family’s stash of toilet paper because of his excessive use of the hot commodity.

Police were called to the family’s home in Saugus, north of Los Angeles, at 3am Monday following a dispute over the whereabouts of the hygiene product, Shirley Miller, spokeswoman for the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station, told a local news service.

The argument between Adrian Yan and his mother escalated and he allegedly ended up punching her, Miller said. He was detained on suspicion of battery, she added.

The mother told deputies that she hid the toilet paper from her 26-year-old son because he used too much of it at a time when the product is in short supply because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Miller said the lockdown imposed across much of the country because of the virus has led to an increase in incidents of family violence.

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“It was to be expected, it’s happening everywhere,” she said.

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