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UN rights chief urges Somalia to reopen case against alleged rape victim, journalist

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] on Wednesday urged the government of Somalia to reopen the case [press release] of a reporter and an alleged rape-victim who were both sentenced [JURIST report] to a year in prison Tuesday. Calling the sentences a "serious blow to the fight against sexual violence," Pillay called on Somalia to reopen the case against a Somali woman who claimed she had been gang-raped by soldiers and Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim, a freelance reporter who interviewed her about her claim. Pillay further requested the nation launch a "full inquiry to clearly establish what happened." Pillay stressed [UN News Centre report] that "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 also expressed concern for the chilling effect the sentences could have on journalism in the nation, noting, "It is deeply disturbing that a woman alleging rape can be penalized for reporting such a crime, and a journalist jailed for investigating it."

The controversy surrounding this case has been a major concern for the fledgling Somali government. Last month UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zainab Hawa Bangura [official profile] criticized the government's response [press release], saying the "approach taken by the Somali police does not serve the interest of justice; it only serves to criminalize victims and undermine freedom of expression for the press." A collection of human rights groups and free press advocates also issued a joint statement [JURIST report] calling for the release of Ibrahim and three others who were detained in connection with the woman's claims. The statement, issued by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalists [advocacy websites], requested that the government release Ibrahim and the others, who were all involved in reporting on the woman's claims and the government's response.

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