The future of Bileh Hersi Eed may well depend upon action by Utah's congressmen, even though they never heard of him until Thursday.
He has languished in a jail in Somalia - the easternmost country on the mainland of Africa - since June without being charged with a crime. But Amnesty International USA asked Utah congressmen Thursday to spearhead efforts to free Eed.That is part of a program called "Get One Free," where Amnesty International is asking each state's congressional delegation and the Bush Administration to essentially adopt one or two "prisoners of conscience" and work to set them free.
Amnesty International USA Director John G. Healey said the 53 prisoners referred to Congress and the administration have spent a combined total of 240 years in prison.
They are only a small part of the nearly 1,200 prisoners of conscience that the group figures are being held unjustly in jails worldwide.
Eed, according to Amnesty International, was arrested in June when the Somalian government began arbitrarily rounding up members of the Issaq clan.
Many clan members support the Somali National Movement, an opposition group with guerrillas that have attacked government forces in northern Somalia.
But Amnesty International said, "The widespread arrests of members of the Issaq clan in 1988 appear to have been carried out arbitrarily and without evidence that particular individuals were actively engaged in support of the SNM and armed opposition to the government.
"There appears to be no evidence that Bileh Hersi Eed actively supported the SNM. (He) has been detained without charge or trial for an indefinite period and Amnesty International fears that he may be subject to torture and ill-treatment."
It added, "Amnesty International has made numerous inquiries and appeals to the Somali authorities about these prisoners but has received no satisfactory response, and in most cases its appeals have been unanswered."
Amnesty International USA added that its members who live in Utah also have been assigned to work specifically to help Eed.
While the group said its requests are on the way to the various congressional delegations, spokesmen for Utah's congressmen said they had not yet received theirs - and therefore had no comment yet about the program.
Healey said the prisoners chosen for the "Get One Free" program were selected to highlight "the contrasting political systems in which men, women and children are imprisoned because of the non-violent expression of their religious or political beliefs or because of their ethnicity or race."
Congressmen from Alabama, New Mexico and Vermont were also asked to help free prisoners in Somalia.
Other countries where Amnesty International asked politicians for help Thursday include: Benin, Brunei, Bulgaria, Chad, Chile, China, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Ethiopia, Ghana, Greece, Hungary, Indonesia, Israel, Kenya, Laos, Malawi, Malaysia, Morocco, Peru, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Soviet Union, Syria, Taiwan, Tanzania, Turkey, Vietnam and Yugoslavia.