A woman who accused Somali security forces of raping her must spend a year behind bars for making a “false accusation” and insulting the government, a Mogadishu court ruled Tuesday.
Court official Ahmed Aden Farah said medical evidence showed that the woman was not raped, the Associated Press reported. Her prison term was delayed to allow her to care for her baby. Journalist Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim, who had interviewed the convicted woman, will also spend a year behind bars on related charges, the court ruled.
Jailing the two is a “terrible miscarriage of justice,” tweeted Daniel Bekele, Africa director for Human Rights Watch, who last week condemned the charges as “a politically motivated attempt to blame and silence those who report on the pervasive problem of sexual violence by Somali security forces.”
The case has drawn attention beyond Somalia, stirring up concerns that victims of sexual assault will not come forward for fear of facing similar charges. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was "deeply disappointed" by the sentences handed down Tuesday, his spokesperson said in a statement.
“These crimes are underreported because of risks to victims, witnesses and family members, as well as of intense stigmatization," the statement said. "It takes extraordinary courage for survivors to come forward.”
Police questioned the woman for two days without an attorney to represent her, rights groups said, then put her before the media, where she publicly retracted her claims. She later said to other people that the rape had indeed occurred, according to Human Rights Watch.
Somali police said the journalist helped with a recent Al Jazeera article on rapes in the country, including an alleged assault by soldiers in a Mogadishu camp for the displaced. He was charged with inducing the woman he interviewed to give false evidence, among other charges. Media freedom groups say he wasn't connected to the article and never published his interview.
Until news of their arrests broke, “the journalist and the alleged rape victim were unknown to me, yet they have been arrested in connection with my report,” Laila Ali, who wrote the Al Jazeera article, said in a commentary published by the Guardian on Tuesday.
“Reporting rape, be it from government forces or others, should never be viewed as a subversive effort to undermine the Somali state, rather it should be viewed as a call to action,” she wrote.
The Mogadishu court handed down its sentences the same day that President Hassan Sheik Mohamud visited with British Foreign Secretary William Hague in London. During their meeting, Hague stressed that rape victims must feel able to report the crimes and he raised “particular concern” about this case, the British Foreign Office said in a statement Tuesday.
Earlier, on a visit to the United States, the Somali president had argued that the case must be allowed to work its way through the courts and that although journalists must be free to do their work, "tainting negatively the image of the government ... is not something acceptable."
Three other people charged in the case were acquitted Tuesday, including the husband of the convicted woman, according to news reports.