Somalia’s Supreme Court has freed a reporter jailed for interviewing a woman who alleged she had been raped by soldiers, in a case that garnered widespread international criticism about the country’s treatment of the press.
A Supreme Court judge dropped the charges against Abdiazaz Abdinur Ibrahim on Sunday and set him free after he had been incarcerated for two months. Ibrahim had initially been sentenced to a year in prison, which later was reduced to six months on appeal.
Hamzaa Mohamed secured the first full-length interview with the journalist a day after his release, in which he speaks about his ordeal, the lessons he learned, and his plans to get married.
Hamza Mohamed: Today is the first day in more than two months that you are not spending in prison. How does it feel?
Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim: I’m feeling very happy. Happy to be free and back amongst my family and friends. Pleased to have seen all the people and organisations that pushed for me to get my freedom again.
HM: Why did you get into trouble?
AAI: I got into trouble for interviewing a lady who alleged men in government soldier uniforms raped her. Interviewing an alleged victim of rape got me in prison. I was working on getting the interview published but was arrested before I could finish working on it. The interview that got me in prison was not even published. I didn’t do anything wrong. As a journalist it is my job to interview people.
HM: What got you freed?
AAI: The highest court in the country saw there was no evidence and that I’m innocent. The Supreme Court saw the other two courts that sentenced me to prison terms were wrong.
Also, local and international pressure brought me back my freedom. Without this pressure I won’t have my freedom back.
HM: What is it like to be a journalist in Somalia?
AAI: There is nowhere like Somalia for journalists to work in. Somalia is a country with many problems. The country is destroyed because of the civil war. We can’t go to many parts of the country and to the places we can go to we have to worry and think about our safety. Journalists are killed and arrested. Personal safety for journalists is not good – it is very bad.
HM: How were you treated in prison and what are conditions like inside?
AAI: I wasn’t treated any different than the other prisoners. But conditions inside are tough. There was an outbreak of diarrhoea when I was there and two of my cellmates where hit by it. In such small space you worry and think when will it be your turn to be hit by diarrhoea. Sometimes we spent twentyfour hours without leaving our cell.
HM: How many people were you sharing the cell with?
AAI: I was sharing my cell with forty other prisoners. At least about forty prisoners. Not easy in such a small confined space.
HM: The judge at the Supreme Court said you can’t sue the government, what do you think about that?
AAI: First I don’t have confidence in the court and justice system here because of my experience and what happened to me. So I’m not currently thinking of starting a case in a system that I don’t have confidence in. May be I will forgive. May be.
HM: I understand you were in the process of getting married when you were arrested – how is that going on?
AAI: Yes, I was preparing to get married when I was arrested and imprisoned. That ruined my plan. I have only been free since yesterday and I haven’t had the chance to see her but I hope to start my wedding preparations again.
HM: Has this experience changed you or your life? Will it change the way you work?
AAI: This experience was one I never experienced before and I hope not to experience again. It is a lesson too. I saw things from an angle journalists tend not to see or experience. I saw how the justice system works for victims, how the security forces work and deal with people and also how life is inside prisons in Somalia. With this lesson and experience I hope to help others in similar circumstances.
HM: Will you be practising journalism and what are your future plans?
AAI: Yes, I will continue to be a journalist. With my experience I hope to help others who are going through what I went through. And of course, get married.