An appeals court's ruling to uphold the conviction of a journalist who interviewed a woman alleging rape by government forces is a major setback for freedom of the media in Somalia. The woman, who had also been convicted of "insulting the government" and other alleged crimes, was found not guilty.
On March 3, 2013, the court of appeals upheld a lower court's conviction of journalist Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim, but reduced his sentence from one year to six months. The judge stated that Abdiaziz Abdinur had not respected the laws of the country and the ethics of journalism by not reporting his interview with the alleged rape victim. It is unclear what laws specifically he is found to have violated.
"The court acquitted a woman who should never have been charged while upholding an unjust conviction of a journalist," said Daniel Bekele, 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?"
On February 5, a woman who alleged that she was raped by five government soldiers in August 2012, and Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim, a journalist who interviewed her, were convicted of falsely accusing a government body of committing a crime that damages state security and each sentenced to one year in prison. The woman's sentence was deferred until she has completed breastfeeding her baby. Abdiaziz Abdinur has been serving his sentence in Mogadishu Central Prison.
The case has been marred by serious violations of the defendants' rights under international human rights law. Prior to the trial, police had coercively interrogated the woman in custody and without a lawyer. One of the main pieces of evidence the prosecution put forward in court was the testimony of a midwife who concluded the woman had not been raped on the basis of a "finger test," an unscientific, inhuman, and degrading "test" that has no forensic value. The lower court did not allow the defense to present its case or introduce witnesses.
The appeals court conducted two hearings on the case on February 20 and 27. The judge permitted the defense to submit documents that showed that, contrary to the claim by the prosecution, the journalist did not publish his interview. The defense also called three witnesses who testified in support of the woman's allegation that she was raped in August 2012.
Donor governments and other international actors who have already criticized the Somali government's handling of this case should continue to voice their objections. Human Rights Watch reiterated its call for the Somali authorities to exonerate Abdiaziz Abdinur and release him immediately.
"The government has argued that justice should run its course in this case, but each step has been justice denied," Bekele said. "Quashing the case and unconditionally releasing Abdiaziz Abdinur will show that this government is ready to focus on protecting freedom of expression and encouraging victims of sexual violence to come forward."