A woman who says she was raped by government troops is due to go on trial in Somalia, accused of offending the honour of a state institution.
Her husband and a journalist who interviewed her have also been charged in the case, which rights groups have said is politically motivated. The trial is set to open on Saturday.
The woman was charged in Mogadishu court on Tuesday of insulting a government body, inducing false evidence, simulating a criminal offense and making a false accusation while journalist Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim has been charged with insulting a government body and inducing the woman to give false evidence.
The reporter faces up to six years in prison, while the 27-year-old woman faces jail for up to nine years.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Committee to Protect Journalists have said the case is linked to an increase in media attention due to the high prevalence of rape and other sexual violence in Somalia, including attacks allegedly committed by security forces.
HRW said the charges stem from a January 8 interview between Abdinur and the woman about her rape allegations. Abdinur did not report the story to any media outlet.
The US-based rights group said that on January 10, he was called to report to the Somali Central Investigations Department of the police and when he did, was detained without charge.
HRW said the woman retracted her claim after being interrogated for two days by the police without legal counsel. She was released but her husband was detained in her stead.
The United Nations says it “has raised concerns that the handling of the pre-trial phase, in particular that the prolonged detention and the [now remedied] lack of access to legal counsel could negatively impact” the trial.
Court documents allege that the journalist “paid money” to gather “false notices” of rape in camps for internally displaced people.
HRW said a man and woman who helped introduce the woman to the journalist have also been charged.
Somalia, which has been ravaged by relentless conflict since 1991, chose a new government in September in a United Nations-backed process, ending eight years of transitional rule by a corruption-riddled government.
Daniel Bekele of Human Rights Watch warned that “bringing charges against a woman who alleges rape makes a mockery” of the new Somali government’s priorities.
“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,” he said.