A Mogadishu court on Tuesday handed down one-year prison sentences to a woman who said she was raped by security forces and a reporter who interviewed her. The judges decided the woman falsely claimed she was raped and had insulted the government.
The judges based their decision on medical evidence that the woman was not raped, said the court's top official, Ahmed Aden Farah. Farah said the woman's prison term would be delayed so she could care for her young child.
Rights groups have decried the case as politically motivated because the woman had accused security forces of the assault. Rape is reported to be rampant in Mogadishu, where tens of thousands of people who fled last year's famine live in poorly protected camps. Government troops are often blamed.
The charges and resulting sentences may result in even fewer victims of sexual assault coming forward to report attacks in conservative Somalia, rights groups fear.
"The court's decision to convict an alleged rape victim and journalist who interviewed her 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 alleged rape victim was charged with insulting a government body, inducing false evidence, simulating a criminal offense and making a false accusation. Freelance journalist Abdiaziz Abdinur was charged with insulting a government body and inducing the woman to give false evidence. Three others charged in the case, including the woman's husband, were acquitted Tuesday.
All of the defendants denied the charges in court. Abdinur's lawyer said he would appeal.
Farah, the court official, noted while reading the verdict that Abdinur admitted that he had interviewed the victim. But Abdinur never published a story in relation to the interview. Farah said the court also found the reporter guilty of visiting a man's home without his permission.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed deep disappointment over the sentences and urged the Somali government "to ensure that all allegations of sexual violence are investigated fully and perpetrators are brought to justice," U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
"Above all, it is essential that the rights of the alleged victim and the journalist to a fair and transparent judicial process, including the right of appeal, are fully respected," Nesirky said.