A Somali court on Tuesday sentenced a woman who accused Somali security forces of rape to a year in prison for insulting a government body and making false claims. The same court in Mogadishu also sentenced [Guardian report] freelance reporter Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim, who interviewed the woman in January, to a year in prison on the same charges. Both sentences have been criticized by human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website], which condemned [HRW report] the charges as "politically motivated" and "a mockery of the new Somali government's priorities." According to HRW, the woman was arrested and interrogated for two days without legal counsel following her complaint before she retracted her story and was released. In response to growing international concern over these charges, Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon Saaid [Aljazeera backgrounder] stated earlier this week that Somalia authorities will do more to protect rape victims [JURIST report] as well as work to reform both the military and judiciary. Both the woman and the reporter are expected to appeal their sentences.
The controversy surrounding this case has been a major concern for the fledgling Somalian government. Last month, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zainab Hawa Bangura [official profile] criticized the government's response [press release], saying the "approach taken by the Somali police does not serve the interest of justice; it only serves to criminalize victims and undermine freedom of expression for the press." A collection of human rights groups and free press advocates last month also issued a joint statement [JURIST report] calling for the release of Ibrahim and three others who were detained in connection with the woman's claims. The statement, issued by HRW, Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalists [advocacy websites], requested that the government release Ibrahim and the others, who were all involved in reporting on the woman's claims and the government's response.