A young woman who accused Somalia’s security forces of rape has been given a one-year jail sentence for making a false accusation and insulting the government. A freelance journalist who interviewed the alleged victim has also been sentenced to a year in prison, despite never publishing his report.
“We sentence her for offending state institutions by claiming she was raped,” Judge Ahmed Adan Farah said in court. The woman was also charged with inducing false evidence, simulating a criminal offence and making a false accusation.
A key witness called by the prosecution was a midwife who testified the alleged victim had not been raped. The midwife said in court her evidence was based on the fact a pregnancy test she carried out on the alleged victim came back negative.
The case provoked outcry from human rights groups who say the ruling is politically motivated and intended to cover up rampant sexual abuse among the security service and police. “The court’s decision is a terrible miscarriage of justice and sends a chilling signal to victims of sexual assault in Somalia,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
“The case was built on groundless charges and serious due process violations and should have been thrown out. The government should swiftly move to exonerate and release the defendants.”
The 27-year-old alleged rape victim reported the incident to Hodan police station in the capital, Mogadishu, and was interviewed by journalist Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim on 8 January. The pair were arrested separately two days later and were accused of giving false evidence and conspiring to offend state institutions. The trial opened on Saturday and ended on Tuesday. Three others charged, including the woman’s husband, were acquitted.
Abdiaziz Ibrahim was charged with offending the state and for inducing the woman to give false evidence. He was charged separately under sharia law for entering a woman’s house when her husband was not present.
It convictions come just days after Somalia’s newly elected president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud visited Britain. Foreign Secretary William Hague tweeted that he spoke to President Mohamud about the case on his visit, but despite pressure to take a stand President Mohamud, whose election last year was hailed as the start of a new era for Somalia, refused to intervene.
“I don’t have the right to interfere in the judiciary system... [which would] never help the rule of law in Somalia,” he said in a television interview on Sunday. Sources close to the government say the President has is under pressure from senior police not to intervene.
The United Nations estimates more than 1,100 cases of sexual violence were reported in Somalia last year, while admitting that the official figure is likely to be much higher because of the stigma around sex and the pressure on women not to report crimes.
When Mr Mohamud was elected he promised to do more to protect women and announced a crack down on rape. But Fartuun Adan, who runs a shelter for abused women in Somalia, says he has done the opposite.
“We hoped the new government would send a strong message. Unfortunately this is not the message we wanted,” she said.
Human rights groups say the woman’s arrest was a response to a string of news reports about the sharp increase in rape in Mogadishu. On 6 January, Al Jazeera and the Somali television station Universal TV both carried reports on rape in Mogadishu carried out by men in police uniform.
A group of Somali journalists staged a protest outside court with their mouths taped shut and their hands tied. The demonstration was quickly shut down by police.
“We are all shocked by the court’s unfair verdict jailing the journalist without due process,” Abdirashid Abdulle, a media activist in Mogadishu said. “[Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim] was supposed to leave the jail today, instead he was unfairly sent back behind bars with out concrete evidence against him.”
The United States officially recognized Somalia as a country this month for the first time in two decades. The move was seen as a sign of hope for Somalia as it struggles to leave behind 21 years of broken government and war. But despite progress, government institutions in Mogadishu remain weak and corruption is rife. Security in Somalia is still provided by 17,000 African Union troops.