Last month we reported on the conviction of our colleague and friend, Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim, who was given a one year prison sentence for interviewing a woman who claimed to have been raped by a group of government soldiers. The woman was also sentenced even though the interview was never published. The verdicts struck a devastating blow to press freedom and the fight against sexual violence in Somalia.
Fartuun Adan, Director of the Elman Peace and Human Rights Center, later observed:
“The setbacks of the sentencing were experienced immediately; survivors of rape noted as hesitant to report to authorities, seek aid or services. The message that was sent was a complete contradiction to the earlier promises made when the president first took power; that convicted rapists would be punished. The message was now, alleging rape is punishable” – Turning a New Leaf: Somalia Rising
A few days later, Fartuun, her daughter Ilwad Elman, and others featured in ‘Through the Fire’ used the international One Billion Rising campaign as an opportunity to issue a rallying call in support of Abdiaziz and his interviewee. A petition was started and relentless lobbying got underway with human rights groups, women’s NGOs and journalist unions all joining hands to call for their immediate release.
One month after the court’s original ruling, the woman’s sentence was quashed and Abdiaziz’s halved but not repealed.
We are delighted, and relieved, to report that last week the Somali High Court finally freed our colleague on the grounds of lack of evidence to support the charges laid against him.
Somali Prime Minister, Abdi Farah Shirdon, said he welcomed the decision:
“I have publicly stated my concerns about this case in the past few weeks and I have also declared that it was not appropriate for the government to interfere with the judiciary, whose independence is guaranteed under our constitution… We have been determined to let justice take its course and, although it took longer than I would have liked, today we can say that justice has been done.”
After more than two month’s incarceration, Abdiaziz emerged from the court to thank his supporters:
“I’m very happy that I got my freedom back, I thank those who worked in this process that helped my release,” he said.
When asked about what impact of the ordeal he said:
“This experience was one I never experienced before and I hope not to experience again. It is a lesson too. I saw things from an angle journalists tend not to see or experience. I saw how the justice system works for victims, how the security forces work and deal with people and also how life is inside prisons in Somalia. With this lesson and experience I hope to help others in similar circumstances.”
In spite of everything, Abdiaziz intends to continue working as a journalist, and, now that he is free to do so, finally marry his fiancé.
– For full interviews see: ‘Q&A: Freed Somali Journalist’ and ‘My rapists were rewarded, says Somali woman cleared of making false claims’
(Photo courtesy of Reuters)
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