Nairobi, March 4, 2013--Sunday's decision by an appellate court in Mogadishu to uphold the conviction of a freelance Somali journalist in connection with his interview of a reported rape victim prolongs a miscarriage of justice and is a direct assault on press freedom, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Judge Mohamed Hassan upheld the conviction of Abdiaziz Abdinuur and reduced his one-year prison sentence to six months, according to news reports and local journalists. Abdiaziz was convicted on February 5 on charges of insulting the state after his January 8 interview with a woman who claimed she had been raped by Somali forces late last year. The interview was never published. The woman was initially convicted and received the same jail term, but the court overturned the verdict today.
The appellate court judge ruled that Abdiaziz had violated Somali law and had offended the "reputation of a national institution" by not reporting to officials the account of the alleged rape victim, according to local reports and local journalists. Local journalists told CPJ it was unclear how the judge had come to the decision, since it was not illegal to conduct an interview and because no legal prerequisite existed on alerting authorities after conducting interviews.
Abdiaziz's defense lawyer, Mohamed Mohamud, told local journalists they would not accept the verdict and would be filing an appeal with the Supreme Court.
"Somali leaders ask for faith in the country's troubled judicial system, but this ruling delivers another serious blow to the credibility of the courts. When the courts convict a journalist for listening to a woman's account of rape at the hands of government forces, they are sending a message that the government is above the law and above its own citizens," said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. "We urge the Supreme Court to open a new era of justice by overturning the conviction of Abdiaziz Abdinuur and by releasing him immediately."
News accounts quoted Somali Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon as saying he had hoped for a different outcome. "I note his sentence has been reduced from 12 months to six, but I do not believe journalists should be sent to prison for doing their job," he said. "We must have freedom of expression, which is guaranteed in our constitution."
- For more data and analysis on Somalia, visit CPJ's Attacks on the Press.