Somalia jails alleged rape victim, journalist for one year

Somalia on Tuesday jailed for one year a woman who said she was raped by security forces and a journalist who interviewed her, saying they were guilty of insulting the state in a case that has alarmed rights groups.

"We sentence her for offending state institutions by claiming she was raped," judge Ahmed Adan told the court in the capital Mogadishu. "She will spend one year in prison after finishing the breast feeding of her baby."

Freelance journalist Abdiaziz Abdinuur, 25, 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 added.

Rights groups have condemned the case as "politically motivated", and defence lawyers have said they will appeal against the decision.

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.

The reporter, who works for several Somali radio stations as well as international media, was detained on January 10 after researching rampant sexual violence in Somalia.

He did not air or print any report after interviewing the woman.

"The decision of the court was contrary to Somali laws as well as international laws," defence lawyer Mohamed Mohamud Afrah told reporters, adding both the woman and Abdinur would appeal.

"There was sufficient evidence to free the prisoners who were unlawfully detained...I wasn't given the opportunity to legally defend the accused."

Mohamed Ibrahim, head of Somali's journalist union, said the sentencing was a "miscarriage of justice, and an attack on the freedom of the press."

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists have 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".

UN Special Representative on sexual violence, Zainab Hawa Bangura, last month condemned the case, saying it "does not serve the interest of justice; it only serves to criminalise victims and undermine freedom of expression for the press."

Somalia, which has been ravaged by relentless conflict since 1991, chose a new administration in September in a UN-backed process, ending eight years of transitional rule by a corruption-riddled government.

Many have hailed the new government for offering hope it will be the first effective administration since the fall of president Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

Last week, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud visited the European Union, issuing a joint statement with the bloc's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton claiming that "a new Somalia is defying the cynicism of outsiders".

Somalia needs "a justice system offering fair access to all", the statement said, warning that "without security for every Somali citizen there will not be the rule of law and the space for economic development".

HRW said that bringing a case against a woman who alleges rape "makes a mockery" of such rhetoric, calling it a "politically motivated attempt to blame and silence those who report on the pervasive problem of sexual violence by Somali security forces".

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he had raised the case with Mohamud after meeting with the president on Tuesday, noting in a message on Twitter the "importance of victims feeling able to speak out".