In Somalia, a court has cleared a woman who had been jailed after she alleged she was raped by state security forces but it has kept the journalist who interviewed her in prison.
The Mogadishu appeals court found the woman not guilty, reversing an earlier conviction for defaming the government, according to news reports. However, it ruled that journalist Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim must spend six months behind bars.
The January arrests of the woman and the reporter appalled human rights groups, which said the charges would discourage people from coming forward to report sexual assault, especially at the hands of government forces.
Activists said the woman was questioned for days by police before being “paraded” before the media, where she publicly disavowed her earlier claims. She later said the rape had indeed happened, according to Human Rights Watch. Media freedom groups say the Somali journalist never published anything from his interview.
The arrests occurred shortly after Al Jazeera published an article online that described alleged rapes in Somalia, including an alleged assault by soldiers, but the writer of that article said she had never met the two defendants.
“My report merely shone a light onto one woman's horrific experience,” the Al Jazeera contributor, Laila Ali, wrote in a commentary for the Guardian. “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.”
Both defendants received one-year sentences in February; the woman was allowed to delay her jail time to care for her baby. The Sunday decision dropped charges against the woman and cut the sentence for the journalist in half, but rights groups insisted he should be freed immediately.
The National Union of Somali Journalists said it was “shocked” by the decision and unsure how the court had decided that the jailed reporter had not followed “journalism ethics.”
If the woman was not guilty, “then how is the person who merely reported her story still incarcerated?” freelance journalist Abdiqani Farah asked on Garowe Online, a news website linked to a radio station in northeastern Somalia.
Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon said the decision came “a step closer to justice being done,” but told the Associated Press on Sunday that he had hoped for a different outcome for the reporter. “I do not believe journalists should be sent to prison for doing their job,” he said.