Somalia sentences alleged rape victim, journalist

A Somali court on Feb. 5 sentenced a woman who accused Somali security forces of rape to a year in prison for insulting a government body and making false claims. The same court in Mogadishu also sentenced freelance reporter Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim, who interviewed the woman in January, to a year in prison on the same charges. Both sentences have been criticized by human rights groups. Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned the charges as "politically motivated" and "a mockery of the new Somali government's priorities."

According to HRW, the woman was arrested and interrogated for two days without legal counsel following her complaint before she retracted her story and was released. In response to growing international concern over these charges, Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon Saaid stated earlier this week that Somalia authorities will do more to protect rape victims as well as work to reform both the military and judiciary. Both the woman and the reporter are expected to appeal their sentences.

The controversy surrounding this case has been a major concern for the fledgling Somalian government. Last month, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zainab Hawa Bangura also criticized the government's response, saying the "approach taken by the Somali police does not serve the interest of justice; it only serves to criminalize victims and undermine freedom of expression for the press." A collection of human rights groups and free press advocates last month also issued a joint statement calling for the release of Ibrahim and three others who were detained in connection with the woman's claims. The statement, issued by HRW, Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalists, requested that the government release Ibrahim and the others, who were all involved in reporting on the woman's claims and the government's response.

From Jurist, Feb. 5. Used with permission.

Somalia appeals court acquits alleged rape victim

Somali appeals court judge Mohamed Hassan Ali on March 3 dropped charges against a woman who alleged she had been raped by Somali government security forces and was consequently charged with defamation against the government. The judge found the evidence insufficient to back the prosecutor's charge that led the woman to receive a one-year prison sentence. While some medical evidence suggested the woman was not raped, experts questioned the government's medical expertise in that determination.

The journalist who interviewed the rape victim was also tried and originally sentenced to one year. Although the judge reduced the reporter's sentence to six months, the judge stated that the reporter had not respected the Somalia's laws or journalistic ethics. Human Rights Watch criticized the ruling, stating that the acquittal of the alleged victim and the upholding of the journalist's conviction would deter women from reporting crimes by government forces.

["The court acquitted a woman who should never have been charged while upholding an unjust conviction of a journalist," said Daniel Bekele, HRW's Africa director. "After this case, who in their right mind would suggest to a victim of government abuse that they report the crime? Or tell their story to a journalist?"]

From Jurist, March 3. Used with permission.