The UN and human rights groups have condemned the decision by Somalia’s government to charge a journalist for “offending national prestige” and other crimes while investigating allegations of rape by security forces.
Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim, 25, a freelance reporter in the capital, Mogadishu, was charged with insulting state institutions on Tuesday.
Court documents allege that he “paid money” to gather “false notices” of rape in camps for internally displaced people. He has been in detention since January 10.
Four other people, including an alleged rape victim, were also charged for reportedly helping the journalist.
“Allegations of rape should be met with objective investigations by the proper authorities, not detention for victims who come forward or arrest for journalists who report on such crimes,” Zainab Hawa Bangura, the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, said in a statement.
The alleged rape victim – a 27-year-old woman – was charged with “insulting a political body” and other crimes.
Court documents claim she had told a reporter that security forces had raped her in a camp for internally displaced people.
Three others – Hawa Hassan Ali, Muhyidin Sheik Mohammed and Abdirizak Adullahi – have been also been charged in the case.
“The approach taken by the Somali police does not serve the interest of justice; it only serves to criminalise victims and undermine freedom of expression for the press”
– Zainab Hawa Bangura, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict
Hawa Hasan has been accused of gathering all those involved at a restaurant and helping the woman “to play the role of a rape victim”.
The two others were charged with plotting to fabricate the story with the journalist and the woman for the purpose of “gaining income”.
Rights groups have condemned the actions against the five.
“Bringing charges against a woman who alleges rape makes a mockery of the new Somali government’s priorities,” Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said.
“The police ‘investigation’ in this case was a politically motivated attempt to blame and silence those who report on the pervasive problem of sexual violence by Somali security forces.”
Somalia officials were not available for comment.
Al Jazeera was unable to get comment from Abdiqadir Muse, the attorney general, or Abdullah Abyan, the justice minister.
The charges against the five come amid increasing media attention on reported sexual abuse by Somali government security services.
Earlier in January, Universal TV – a local television station – and Al Jazeera’s website separately published stories about allegations of rape by the security forces in the city’s crowded camps for displaced people.
None of the people charged on Tuesday have any connection with Al Jazeera.
Abdiaziz, the journalist, had not published his own investigation into rape allegations before being detained.
Despite this, Sharif Shekuna Maye, a Somali police official, held a news conference on January 16 where he accused Abdiaziz of assisting Al Jazeera with its story, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported.
Research from the CPJ confirmed that “Abdiaziz had no connection with Al Jazeera’s report”.
The next hearing in the court case is set for February 2. International organisations are calling for Somalia’s government, which depends on foreign aid for its survival, to free the detainees.
“The approach taken by the Somali police does not serve the interest of justice; it only serves to criminalise victims and undermine freedom of expression for the press,” the UN’s special representative said.
“Attempts to intimidate and silence reporters rather than investigate crimes of sexual violence diminish public faith in government institutions while letting criminals go free.”