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Somalia appeals court acquits alleged rape victim, reduces journalist sentence

Somali appeals court judge Mohamed Hassan Ali on Sunday dropped charges against a woman who alleged she had been raped by Somali government security forces and was consequently charged with defamation against the government. The judge found the evidence insufficient [AP report] to back the prosecutor's charge that led the woman to receive a one-year prison sentence [JURIST reports]. While some medical evidence suggested the woman was not raped, experts questioned the government's medical expertise in that determination. The journalist who interviewed the rape victim was also tried and originally sentenced to one year. Although the judge reduced the reporter's sentence to six months, the judge stated that the reporter had not respected the Somalia's laws or journalistic ethics. Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] criticized the ruling [press release], stating that the acquittal of the alleged victim and the upholding of the journalist's conviction would deter women from reporting crimes by government forces.

The controversy surrounding this case has been a major concern for the fledgling Somali government. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] last Wednesday urged the government of Somalia to reopen the case. 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 ... 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.

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