Mogadishu — A Somali court on Tuesday (February 5th) sentenced a woman who said she was raped by Somali security forces and a journalist who interviewed her to one year in prison, saying they were guilty of offending the honour of state.
"We sentence her for offending state institutions by claiming she was raped," judge Ahmed Aden Farah told the court in Mogadishu, according to AFP. "She will spend one year in prison after finishing the breast feeding of her baby."
Somali journalist Abdiasis Abdinuur Ibrahim, who is already in detention, was to begin serving his sentence immediately.
"The court finds that he offended state institutions by making a false interview and entering the house of a woman whose husband was not present," the judge said.
Rights groups have condemned the case as "politically motivated".
Three other defendants, including the husband of the alleged victim, and a man and woman who helped introduce her to the journalist, were found not guilty and released.
National Union of Somali Journalists Secretary General Mohamed Ibrahim said the court's decision was regrettable and unjust.
"The journalist had been charged with slander against government institutions, yet today he was found guilty and sentenced for entering into the woman's house and interviewing her without her husband," he told Sabahi. "[Ibrahim's] lawyer will seek an appeal. We will push this case forward and will not stop until we achieve justice for our colleague," he said. "This is an attempt to harass and silence reporters."
Ibrahim, who works for several Somali radio stations as well as international media, was detained January 10th in Mogadishu after researching sexual violence in Somalia.
United Nations Political Office for Somalia said on February 1st it "has raised concerns that the handling of the pre-trial phase, in particular the prolonged detention and the (now remedied) lack of access to legal counsel, could negatively impact" the trial.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a joint statement that the case is "linked to increasing media attention given to the high levels of rape... including attacks allegedly committed by security forces".
Government takes steps on human rights
Also on Tuesday, Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon launched an independent task force to tackle what he called a "culture of impunity" over human rights abuses in Somalia.
The prime minister said the 13-member task force would be specifically investigating allegations of widespread rape and sexual abuse, and whether due process had been followed in Ibrahim's case. Shirdon has repeatedly expressed his opposition to holding anyone in detention without charge.
"The simple fact is that sexual violence against women is completely unacceptable and must never go unpunished," he said. "We cannot say we have made progress until those who commit these crimes are brought to justice. My government's final target is to eliminate these inhuman practices."
The taskforce has a three-month mandate, and is scheduled to issue a public report detailing its findings and recommendations.
Meanwhile, Somali lawmaker Asha Haji Elmi, who is also the prime minister's wife, convened a meeting in Mogadishu on Monday to discuss ways of preventing rape and violence against women, Somalia's Shabelle Media Network reported.
Representatives from civil society organisations and religious leaders attended the meeting and voiced support for Elmi's initiative.
Spokesperson for the Somali Association of Islamic Scholars Sheikh Nur Barud Gurhan called for outreach initiatives throughout the regions, especially in the newly liberated areas, to raise awareness that rape is a crime punishable by execution.