Somalia: Anger over woman charged after alleging rape

Somali journalists protest on Sunday 27 January 2013 in Mogadishu about the detention of their colleague in connection with a case of a woman who alleged she was raped by the security forces
Image caption Journalists in Mogadishu say the freedom of the press is at stake

A human rights group has urged Somali authorities to drop charges against a woman who accused security forces of raping her.

The woman, who has not been named, could face between three and six years in prison for insulting a government body and making a false accusation.

Four others, including her husband and a journalist, have also been charged.

US-based Human Rights Watch said the charges "made a mockery of the new Somali government's priorities".

Last September, a new president was elected by MPs in a process backed by the UN.

The new government is trying to rebuild Somalia after more than 20 years of conflict which saw clan-based warlords, rival politicians and Islamist militants battle for control of the country.

'Politically motivated'

Attorney General Abdulkadir Mohamed Muse brought charges against the five of insulting a government body and persuading someone to give false evidence or giving false evidence, among other accusations, in a court in the capital, Mogadishu, on Tuesday.

The charged journalist, Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim, has been in detention since 10 January.

Two days earlier he had interviewed the woman about the rape allegations, but did not report the story.

The police allege he collected material for a news report by al-Jazeera about rape in camps for displaced people in Mogadishu. The Qatar-based news network has said Mr Ibrahim was not involved in its story.

According to Human Rights Watch, the woman retracted her allegations after two days of police interrogation without a lawyer present.

Afterwards she was released, but her husband was arrested in her place. A man and woman who helped introduce her to the journalist were also arrested.

Mr Muse told the BBC Somali service on Saturday that the accused had plotted to discredit the government and its security forces - and the woman and her accomplices had been paid by the journalist to lie.

An investigation had revealed that the police station where the woman had originally reported the alleged rape in Hodan, a district in Mogadishu where many displaced people live, had found no medical evidence to back up her rape allegation, he said.

The BBC's Mohamed Mwalimu in Mogadishu says the woman, who is caring for a child, has to report to the police twice a day. The other four accused remain in jail.

Media organisations in the city have been outraged by the case and have held demonstrations in protest, he says.

"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 in a statement.

"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 donor countries funding Somalia's police force and criminal justice system needed to make it clear that "they won't be party to injustices".

Some 18,000 African Union soldiers are in Somalia, training and helping the government security forces regain control of the country from al-Qaeda-aligned militants.

When President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was asked about the case on a visit to the US earlier this month, he said it was a legal matter in which he could not interfere.

The trial will resume on Saturday in Banadir regional court in Mogadishu.

On Tuesday, the lawyers for the accused - who are being provided as part of a government legal aid programme - asked for a delay in order to prepare their case.

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