MOGADISHU (Reuters) - A Somali judge on Tuesday jailed a woman who said she had been raped by soldiers and a journalist who interviewed her, finding them guilty of making up the story to besmirch the government.
The verdict and one-year jail sentences drew condemnation from Somalia’s union of journalists. Human rights groups have called the trial politically motivated, aimed at covering up rampant sexual abuse of women by the security forces.
“They fabricated a story to hurt the government,” Judge Ahmed Aden said in court.
The judge suspended the sentence of Luul Ali Osman, 27, until after she had stopped breastfeeding her baby. Freelance journalist Abdiaziz Abdinur was to begin his jail sentence immediately, the court ordered.
Both the United States and the United Nations criticized the case before of the trial.
Washington was deeply concerned by the verdict and by “reports of procedural irregularities and witness intimidation during the court proceedings,” the U.S. State Department said.
“These prosecutions run counter to protections contained in Somalia’s provisional constitution, and send the wrong message to perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement.
Osman, her husband and Abdinur faced charges that included insulting a government body, making false accusations, and seeking to profit from the allegations.
During the trial, the judge refused to hear the evidence of three witnesses who intended to testify in defense of Osman and Abdinur.
The National Union of Somali Journalists described the trial as an attack on press freedom. It expressed shock that Abdinur was also convicted of entering Osman’s house without her husband’s permission, even though that was not one of the charges against him.
Osman and Abdinur intend to appeal. Osman’s husband was acquitted due to a lack of evidence that he had helped set up the interview.
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders ranks Somalia 175th out of 179 countries surveyed for its 2012/2013 World Press Freedom index, one place ahead of Syria.
Somali Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon Saaid promised on Sunday to reform Somalia’s armed forces and the judiciary once the trial had concluded, acknowledging “deep-seated problems” with both institutions.
For two decades the Horn of Africa state has been plagued by civil war, anarchy and Islamist insurgencies. However, September’s peaceful elections, the first since military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown by warlords in 1991, were welcomed as the dawn of a new era.
Additional reporting by Abdi Shekh and Paul Eckert in Washington; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Richard Lough and Andrew Roche. Desking by Christopher Wilson