MOGADISHU (Reuters) - A Somali judge on Sunday freed a journalist who was jailed last month for interviewing an alleged gang-rape victim in a case that sparked international condemnation over how Somali authorities treat victims of sexual violence and press freedom.
Human rights groups said the February trial of gang rape victim Luul Ali Osman and freelance journalist Abdiaziz Abdinur was politically motivated, aimed at covering up rampant sexual abuse of women by the security forces.
Abdinur never published his interview with Osman but both were sentenced to one year in jail after the judge found them guilty of making up the story to besmirch the Somali government, a verdict that was heavily criticized by the U.S.
The U.S. State Department said the verdict sent “the wrong message to perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence” and voiced concerns of witness intimidation during the trial.
Osman was released on appeal earlier this month but Abdinur’s sentence was upheld, though reduced to six months, triggering protests from Somali journalists.
The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said that verdict was a “direct assault on press freedom” in Somalia, a country recovering after two decades of civil war and Islamist insurgencies.
Aideed Abdullahi Ilkahanaf, chairman of the Somali High Court which freed Abdinur on Sunday, told reporters: “We have no evidence to support his charges.”
Somali Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon Saaid has promised to reform the country’s armed forces and the judiciary once the trial has concluded, acknowledging “deep-seated problems” with both institutions.
After the verdict was announced, Abdinur thanked the international community and fellow journalist for helping secure his release.
“I’m happy to be free,” smiling Abdinur told reporters.
Writing By Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Sophie Hares