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Somali Appeals Court’s Decision Does Little to Reassure Victims of Sexual Violence

For Immediate Release

A Somali appeals court’s decision this week to overturn the conviction of a woman who claimed she was gang-raped by security forces is a welcome development, PHR said today. A regional court last month had sentenced the woman to a year in prison, contending that she had fabricated the rape charge and damaged state security.

But the court’s decision not to also overturn the conviction of the Somali reporter who interviewed her sends a troubling message to other journalists that any efforts to publicize government abuses may land them in jail. The appeals court said the journalist, Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim, 25, must serve six months in prison, even though he never published an account of the woman’s rape allegations, because his interview of the woman had violated journalistic ethics and Somali law. The regional court had imposed a one-year sentence.

“The appeals court’s decision shows that human rights and due process in Somalia are still subject to arbitrary judicial whim,” said Susannah Sirkin, PHR’s director of international policy and partnerships. “Somalia will continue to face great difficulties in forming a stable, peaceful country until it can guarantee all its citizens the fair and impartial application of justice and until journalists are permitted to report candidly about allegations of government abuses.”

The 27-year-old woman at the center of the case told officials she had been raped last August at a camp for displaced persons in Mogadishu by five government soldiers. The regional court that convicted her last month accepted the prosecution’s argument that a physical examination of the woman showed that she had not been raped.

PHR and other human rights organizations strongly protested that decision, declaring that the method used to examine the woman was an archaic, irrelevant, and meaningless practice of no value in a rape evaluation.

“Somalia’s government should be actively investigating rape allegations involving its security forces and focusing on bringing the perpetrators to justice,” Sirkin said. “Instead, the court’s actions in this sorry affair are likely to discourage women from sharing their stories of sexual violence and journalists from reporting them, thus enabling rapists to continue to operate with impunity.”

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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