GENEVA (6 February 2013) – The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Wednesday that the widely criticized trial and sentencing of a Somali journalist, and the alleged raped victim he interviewed, risks seriously undermining the fight against sexual violence and urged that their case should be reopened as soon as possible.
“Sexual abuse in the camps for displaced people in Somalia is a real issue, and any effort to expose, denounce and deter these crimes should be supported,” Pillay said. “It is deeply disturbing that a woman alleging rape can be penalized for reporting such a crime, and a journalist jailed for investigating it.”
“This is a terrible blow to freedom of expression in a country where independent journalists have also been regularly targeted and killed,” Pillay said. “Sexual violence is a perfectly valid subject for any journalist to investigate. No journalist should be arrested and sentenced by a court to one year in jail for doing his work,” she added.
The freelance journalist, Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim, who did not even publish any article based on his interview, was jailed for one year on Tuesday by a court in Mogadishu, along with Lul Ali Isman, the young woman who had alleged she had been raped by members of the security forces. Her husband and two others charged in the same case were released by the court.
Pillay condemned the statements made by some public authorities, including police commissioner General Sharif Shekuna Maye at a press conference on January 16, which exposed the alleged victim to public stigmatization, and potentially to personal risk, and in addition undermined her right to presumption of innocence. “The authorities should afford the necessary protection to victims reporting such crimes, and not seek to silence them,” she said.
“I am very concerned about the impact the penalization of the woman alleging rape could have in the fight against impunity in sexual violence cases, especially given the reports of increasing sexual violence in Somalia,” the High Commissioner said. “And I am particularly shocked by the exposure of the victim of the alleged rape to public stigmatization,” she added.
The High Commissioner also expressed her concerns about the handling of the pre-trial and trial phases, particularly the use of prolonged detention without charges – in contravention of Somalia’s own law -- and the limited space given to the defence.
“This sentencing of the alleged victim after such a perfunctory and procedurally questionable investigation into the veracity of her claim does a terrible disservice to the women of Somalia, who will now feel they have nowhere to turn if they are sexually abused -- indeed will be actively deterred from doing so.”
“I raised this case ten days ago directly with the Government of Somalia,” Pillay said. “I am now calling on the Government to urgently re-open this case and launch a full inquiry to clearly establish what happened and, if any allegations of abuses against the victim and the journalist are confirmed, to hold those responsible accountable.”
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