Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, has welcomed Somalia’s release from jail of a woman who told a journalist she was raped by security forces, but expressed regret the journalist she spoke to would remain behind bars.
A Somali appeals court dropped charges on Sunday against the woman, who had been sentenced to a year in jail for “offending state institutions”.
The sentence for Abdiaziz Abdinuur, the reporter, was cut in half to six months.
Abdinuur had also been found guilty of offending state institutions, as well making a false interview and entering the house of a woman whose husband was not present.
In a statement issued on Monday, the UN secretary-general’s spokesperson said that Ban was “gratified” by the appeals court overturning of the conviction of the alleged rape victim.
“He regrets, however, that the sentence against a journalist charged in connection with the case, while shortened, has been upheld,” the spokesperson said.
Ban urged “the government of Somalia to ensure that allegations of sexual violence are investigated and perpetrators are brought to justice”.
Abdinuur, 25, was detained on January 10 while researching sexual violence in Somalia, but did not air or print any report after interviewing the woman.
“The court orders the release of the woman, while the journalist will spend six months in jail for offending state institutions,” Judge Hassan Mohamed Ali said at the court on Sunday.
“The court has learned that the journalist misled the alleged rape victim into the interview.”
The court had initially deemed the woman’s story to be false after a midwife conducted a “finger test” to see if she had been raped, a method that Human Rights Watch called an “unscientific and degrading practice that has long been discredited”.
The woman, who had originally been granted a six-month reprieve before the start of her jail term to allow her to breastfeed her infant child, left the court in the capital Mogadishu after the ruling.
‘Insane and unjust’
Abdinuur was led away in handcuffs and put into a truck that took him back to the central prison, sparking angry reactions from rights groups and fellow journalists.
“This is completely insane and unjust,” said Omar Faruk Osman from Somalia’s national journalists’ union.
“How can they jail someone for interviewing a victim? The lawyers will appeal again and take the case to the Supreme Court.”
Abdinuur works for several Somali radio stations and international media.
Amnesty International, HRW and the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a joint statement during the trial that the case was “linked to increasing media attention given to the high levels of rape” including by security forces.
Daniel Bekele, HRW’s Africa director, criticised the continued jailing of Abdinuur.
“The court of appeals missed a chance to right a terrible wrong, both for the journalist and for press freedom in Somalia,” Bekele said in a statement.
“The government has argued that justice should run its course in this case, but each step has been justice denied.”