By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent
(Worthy News) - A court in Somaliland on Wednesday extended the detention of four Christians for evangelism in the self-declared republic, which is mainly Muslim, trial observers told Worthy News.
Police also hold an infant of a Christian couple among those in custody, said advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC).
The troubles began January 21 when police in Hargeisa, the capital, arrested Mohamed and Hamdi and their newborn baby, MEC told Worthy News.
That same day an Ethiopian woman, Aster, was taken into custody, added MEC, which closely followed the cases. Soon after, police searched Mohammed and Hamdi’s house had detained another person, according to Christians familiar with the situation.
“Besides confiscating material belonging to the couple, they arrested Hamdi A, a woman living with Mohamed and Hamdi. All four, and the baby, remain in police custody,” MEC stressed.
More details or names were not revealed amid security concerns.
CHRISTIANS IN COURT
MEC said that during Wednesday’s court appearance, the four Christians were told that the detention is needed as “the investigation period is being extended.”
The law allows “the prosecutor up to 45 days from the day of arrest to finish his investigation and file charges,” MEC added. On January 25, a judge reportedly informed them they “are suspected of spreading Christianity.”
MEC said the defendants' lawyer first said his clients were “all in good health and being treated well on an initial visit.”
But since then, he has been denied access, “despite a verbal complaint and assurances from the public prosecutor’s office,” MEC said.
The case underscored broader concerns about devoted minority Christians in the country. Last year another married Christian couple was detained for evangelizing in Muslim-majority Somaliland. There were released after some six weeks in custody, well-informed sources told Worthy News at the time. They were later deported to Somalia.
APPEALING FOR PRAYERS
MEC said that Somali Christians appealed for prayers for the detainees that they “will experience God’s closeness and strength – and be released soon.”
In remarks distributed by MEC, local Christians asked prayers for the “Christian community who are feeling vulnerable, with these arrests coming after similar events last year.”
They urged supporters to pray for “wisdom for the Somali church leadership in how to respond.”
MEC quoted Christians as saying that they also wanted prayers for “strength, wisdom, and boldness for the lawyer and that he will be allowed to visit his clients.”
The charges related to evangelism could make their case complicated, Christians suggest. Islam is the official religion of Somaliland, and its constitution prohibits Muslims from converting to another faith.
FORCES CHURCH CLOSURE
It bars the “propagation of any religion other than Islam” such as evangelism and says all laws must comply with the general principles of “sharia” or Islamic law.
In August 2017, the only remaining (Catholic) church in Somaliland was already closed by authorities a few days after it opened temporarily following Muslim protests.
Somaliland broke away from Somalia after the overthrow of Somali military dictator Siad Barre in 1991 in a conflict that killed tens of thousands of people.
However, anti-Christian policies continue under President Muse Bihi Abdi, who has ruled the breakaway, semi-desert territory on the coast of the Gulf of Aden since November 2017.
Those turning to Christ in Somalia and its breakaway Somaliland also face attacks from Islamic militants including from the influential Islamic group al-Shabaab. There are hundreds of devoted believers in the region, according to Christian aid workers