In Somalia, the recent arbitrary arrest, detention and politically motivated prosecution of an alleged rape victim and a freelance journalist, Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim, has raised serious concerns about the new Somali government’s commitment to basic rights, including protecting citizens from government abuses, ensuring due process, and upholding freedom of the media.  We urge the government to promptly and fully resolve this case in accordance with its international human rights obligations.

On 10 January 2013, the authorities arrested and detained Abdiaziz Abdinur two days after he interviewed a woman who alleged she was raped by government security forces in August 2012. He was held for over two weeks before being charged, and repeatedly interrogated.

The alleged rape victim was taken into custody and retracted her claim after being interrogated for two days by the police without legal counsel. She then refused to recant her allegations.  She was released, but her husband was detained in her place. A man and woman who helped her meet with the journalist were also arrested.

On 5 February a court convicted the woman and the journalist of falsely accusing a government body of committing a crime that damages state security and sentenced each to one year in prison. The woman’s sentence was deferred until she has completed breastfeeding her baby. The trial was marred serious due process violations, including arguments that the woman had not been raped on the basis of a “finger test,” an unscientific, inhuman, and degrading “test” without forensic value. The lower court did not allow the defense to present its case or introduce witnesses.The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said the trial “risks seriously undermining the fight against sexual violence” and was also “a terrible blow to freedom of expression in a country where independent journalists have also been regularly targeted and killed.”

An appeals court on 3 March acquitted the woman but upheld the journalist’s conviction, reducing his sentence to six months.

While the Somali president has expressed a commitment to making justice a pillar of his presidency, the numerous due process violations and injustices of this case raise serious questions about the political resolve to turn these commitments into concrete action.

In the absence of a prompt resolution of this case, including the release of Abdiaziz Abdinur, we expect the matter will be taken up by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, as well as the Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Expression and on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers.