In response to a 2012 rape in Somalia, on February 5, 2013 two people were found guilty and sentenced to one year in jail . However, the charges, ensuing from the rape and a journalist’s inquiry regarding the incident, had nothing to do with rape. In fact, the charges issued and sentences given where for fabricating “a story to hurt the government” and insulting state institutions according to the presiding Judge, Ahmed Aden, who said the court based its decision on medical evidence that she was not raped.” The male journalist never published anything regarding this incident, but charges where brought shortly after the journalist’s inquiry.
That’s right, the woman who reported that she was raped by state security forces and attempted to seek justice was given a one year jail sentence as was a journalist whose only “crime” was to speak to her. “During the trial, the judge refused to hear the evidence of three witnesses who intended to testify” on behalf of the woman who was raped and her husband. The woman’s husband was also charged with “insulting a government body, making false accusations, and seeking to profit from the allegations” but he was acquitted due to “lack of evidence” of his involvement in the interview.
“Human rights groups have called the trial politically motivated, aimed at covering up rampant sexual abuse of women by the security forces.”
The United Nations Human Rights watch calls the “Trial and sentencing of Somali journalist and alleged rape victim a serious blow to fight against sexual violence.”
“The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay…urged that [the] case should be reopened as soon as possible:
“Sexual abuse in the camps for displaced people in Somalia is a real issue, and any effort to expose, denounce and deter these crimes should be supported,” Pillay said. “It is deeply disturbing that a woman alleging rape can be penalized for reporting such a crime, and a journalist jailed for investigating it.”
“This is a terrible blow to freedom of expression in a country where independent journalists have also been regularly targeted and killed,” Pillay said. “Sexual violence is a perfectly valid subject for any journalist to investigate. No journalist should be arrested and sentenced by a court to one year in jail for doing his work.”
Further, she condemned the “statements made by some public authorities, including police commissioner General Sharif Shekuna Maye at a press conference on January 16, which exposed the alleged victim to public stigmatization, and potentially to personal risk, and in addition undermined her right to presumption of innocence. “The authorities should afford the necessary protection to victims reporting such crimes, and not seek to silence them,” she said.
“I am very concerned about the impact the penalization of the woman alleging rape could have in the fight against impunity in sexual violence cases, especially given the reports of increasing sexual violence in Somalia,” the High Commissioner said. “And I am particularly shocked by the exposure of the victim of the alleged rape to public stigmatization,” she added.
The High Commissioner also expressed her concerns about the handling of the pre-trial and trial phases, particularly the use of prolonged detention without charges – in contravention of Somalia’s own law — and the limited space given to the defence.
“This sentencing of the alleged victim after such a perfunctory and procedurally questionable investigation into the veracity of her claim does a terrible disservice to the women of Somalia, who will now feel they have nowhere to turn if they are sexually abused — indeed will be actively deterred from doing so.”
“I raised this case ten days ago directly with the Government of Somalia,” Pillay said. “I am now calling on the Government to urgently re-open this case and launch a full inquiry to clearly establish what happened and, if any allegations of abuses against the victim and the journalist are confirmed, to hold those responsible accountable.”
“Somali Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon Saaid acknowledged “”deep-seated problems” with both institutions.” This past Sunday he “promised to reform Somalia’s armed forces and the judiciary once the trial had concluded.”
In case there is any question as to why the title of this piece is “The Ultimate Show of Misogyny and Victim Blaming, apparently, the institutionalized oppression of women in this culture goes so deep that even the simplest appearance of supporting or validating a woman’s rights, any women’s rights leads to arrest and conviction of anyone associated. This one act grossly stifles all women’s voices and freedom in that region and in other parts of the world where fear and saftey is an issue when it comes to reporting. How many women will report under this type of threat? How many women will believe they have the right to speak out against rape? And how many families and citizens will support those rights when they can be put in jail for merely discussing an occurrence?
Written by, Michelle Sicignano, LMSW SJS Staff Writer