29 January 2013

Somalia: Continued Detention of Journalist Exposes Weakness of Somalia's Justice System

Photo: Human Rights Watch
Journalists in Mogadishu protest the ongoing detention of freelance journalist Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim.

Mogadishu — The continued incarceration of journalist Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim, who police say was attempting to release a fabricated rape story implicating members of the Somali security forces, has brought increased attention to the irregularities in Somalia's judicial system.

Ibrahim is a freelance journalist who has worked for several media outlets and is a regular contributor for Radio Dalsan and IRINnews' Radio Ergo, a United Nations-funded outlet.

Ibrahim was detained on January 10th along with Lul Ali Osman, who alleges that members of the police force raped her in July 2012 (previous reports identified the woman as Lul Ali Hassan). Osman, her sister and her husband have been accused of conspiring with the media to release what police say is a fabricated story.

The subsequent arrests have elicited a wave of criticism from human rights organisations and associations defending freedom of the press.

The details of the alleged rape, and Ibrahim's coverage of the story, remain murky.

According to police, Ibrahim published an article about the alleged rape on Al-Jazeera, aiming to tarnish the reputation of the police and undermine their role among civilians.

However, the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) says Ibrahim never got that far.

"The journalist is accused of interviewing a woman, who alleged being raped by state security forces. The interview has not been published on any media outlet," the NUSOJ said in a statement. "At the same time, the Somali police claim that this journalist is the author of a reportage that appeared on Al-Jazeera/Universal TV. The police searched Abdiaziz's home twice, took his laptop and digital voice recorder."

General Abdullahi Hassan Barise, head of criminal investigations and spokesperson for the Somali police, told Sabahi that police confirmed Ibrahim was not working for the Al-Jazeera television channel but could not verify whether he worked for the network's website.

Somali journalists have called on the government to expedite Ibrahim's release, as prosecuting him for unpublished research violates freedom of speech.

Police deny factual basis of rape claim

Somali police commander Major General Sharif Sheekhuna Maye said Ibrahim's report lacked evidence and dismissed claims in the Somali media that rape is a large problem among police officers.

"The police will not tolerate any false accusations as part of a smear campaign," he told Sabahi. "My forces have not committed any inhumane acts such as violating women or rape. Our mission is to protect civilians and provide services and not to cause any psychological or financial troubles."

Maye called on the court to indict those individuals behind the fabrication of the incident and urged the media to publicise their arrests.

"We are still struggling with those that are used to chaos and the absence of law and order," he said. "We have to teach a lesson to everyone who resorts to lies, deception and the spreading of unfounded rumours about the tasks and services provided by the police."

Delayed court process, media outcry

On January 22nd, nearly two weeks after Ibrahim and the other three detainees were arrested, the Benadir Court approved a request from prosecutors to postpone the trial date to January 26th to complete their investigation.

Various groups of journalists and activists who support the accused individuals, however, disagreed with the decision to postpone the trial, as Ibrahim and the others had been jailed without charges.

On the same day, Radio Ergo Manager Abdulqadir Mohamed Mursal, Radio Dalsan Manager Hassan Ali Geesey, Somalisat TV producer Hassan Isse Ali, Radio Mogadishu Manager Abdirahin Isse Adow and Radio Danan owner Mohamed Barre Haji Omar released a joint statement in which they declared the arrest of Ibrahim and his sources to be against the principles of freedom of speech.

Ibrahim's continued detention without a trial is an attack against freedom of opinion and the dissemination and exchange of information, the statement said.

On January 26th, Somalia's Attorney General Abdulkadir Mohamed Muse told reporters the trial date had been postponed for a second time to an unspecified date.

Members of NUSOJ protested the decision to delay the hearing again and held a public rally on Sunday (January 27th) to protest the government's handling of the case.

"Somali journalists are very disappointed about the many delays of the court hearing and the involvement of high level government officials in the case, which raises doubt over how fair justice will be served to the journalist," said NUSOJ secretary general Mohamed Ibrahim in a statement released Saturday.

"Somali journalists brave many dangers, including killings, assassinations, death threats and arbitrary arrests, and still continue to serve Somali citizens, and they have the right to get proper protection of their basic freedoms, such as the freedom of expression and the freedom of the press," he said.

"As reporters we are fed up," said Radio Bar-Kulan reporter Abdulqadir Mohamed Farah who participated in the demonstration. "We want the government to prove its case against Abdiaziz and the others detained with him."

"I do not understand why these people have been arrested and denied their freedom for more than two weeks without a court sentence," Farah told Sabahi. "[But] I believe eventually the truth will come out."

Journalist Abdifatah Mohamud Siyad, who works for Somalisat TV and also participated in the demonstration, said he was compelled to join with the other reporters in defence of freedom of speech.

"Nothing good or worthy can come from impeding the freedom of speech of reporters," he told Sabahi. "[Journalists] help inform Somalis about what is happening in their country so they understand what is in their interest."

"Everyone knows that the truth can never be hidden [for long] and the government should protect the independence of the press," Siyad said.

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