Two Canadian women jailed in Somalia and facing 40 lashes were released Tuesday, according to sources.
Maymona Abdi, 28, and Karima Watts, 24, were arrested in January after police entered a house in Hargeisa, their lawyer Mubarik Mohamoud Abdi said.
The women, who are originally from Ottawa, were accused of having consumed alcohol, which is illegal in Somaliland, a self-declared republic still internationally considered to be part of Somalia.
New York-based human rights activist Jason Jeremias said Abdi was in Somaliland to help women facing gender-based violence.
Their lawyer said they signed confessions under duress, hoping to avoid jail, but they were sentenced to 2½ months in prison and 40 lashes.
“[The prosecution] did not prove before the court that they used alcohol,” their lawyer said.
Conditions were awful
In a statement, Maymona Abdi’s mother Fahima Hassan wrote, “Maymona and Karima were born and grew up in Ottawa, Canada, as best friends. When Karima’s mother died, she became our daughter.”
Jeremias, who has been advocating on their behalf, said both women struggled to cope in jail.
“The conditions were awful,” he said. ” They didn’t understand why they were being detained — and detained for so long.”
He said Abdi contracted pneumonia while in jail and was denied medical access. The women were also sometimes denied food, showers and sanitary pads he added.
“They suffered physically and mentally, and they didn’t understand why this was happening to them.”
Lashings very rare
Ayan Mahamoud, a representative of Somaliland to the U.K., and the Commonwealth said being sentenced to lashings is rare in Somaliland.
“I thought, what’s going on?” she said. “I think the last capital crime in Somaliland was in ’92, ’93.”
Mahamoud said initially it was challenging for her to confirm the arrest and to get details on the status of the women. “I asked around … no one was able to tell me anything about this story,” she said.
After reaching out to journalists and human rights activists in Somaliland, she connected with their lawyer who informed her about their release.
Canada cautions travelers to avoid Somalia and describes the country as “extremely volatile” with the threat of domestic terrorism “high.”
Global Affairs Canada said it is aware two Canadian citizens have been released and is providing consular assistance.