A Somali court on Tuesday handed down one year sentences to a woman who claimed she was raped and to a journalist who interviewed her about the alleged sexual abuse. The Mogadishu judges decided the woman had lied. The journalist was accused of insulting the government, even though he never published anything from the interview. Rights groups have decried the case as politically motivated because the woman had accused security forces of the assault.
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In Somalia today, a court convicted a woman who claimed she had been raped - convicted her of lying - and a journalist who interviewed her of insulting the government. Both were given one-year sentences.
Rape is a huge problem in the capital, Mogadishu, and human rights groups have decried the case as politically motivated because the men accused of rape are soldiers. NPR's Gregory Warner is in Mogadishu and joins us now. And, Gregory, I just gave a very rough outline of this very complicated case. What more can you tell us about it?
GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: Sure, Robert. What we know is this: early in January, a freelance Somali journalist named Abdiaziz Abdinur interviewed a woman who said she was raped by government soldiers. And he interviewed her. He did not publish anything about this interview. Police then arrested the woman, then they arrested the journalist. The trial was over and done with before lunch time.
The judge decided what they claimed was medical evidence that the woman was not raped. And the prosecutors claim that she recanted her story, although the woman denied this in tears on the stand. And the lawyer for the accused was reportedly prevented from showing any evidence or calling witnesses of his own. The woman and the journalist were convicted, and they were sentenced both to a year in prison.
SIEGEL: Now, Somalia has supposedly been trying to move beyond its violent past. Last month, the U.S. recognized the government for the first time in two decades. The new president has even met with officials in Washington, including President Obama. What is the government saying about this case?
WARNER: Well, the new president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who was elected four months ago, has been saying that, look, he supports the rights of women, and he supports freedom of the press. There's now an independent commission supposed to look at cases of rape and attacks on journalists. But he's also been saying the press is not above the law and that even he, as president, can't get involved in the decision of the so-called judicial process.
I think it's worth remembering that this president was really elected because he's a political outsider. He comes from the nonprofit world. He's not a politician, so he's free of this taint of corruption. But, of course, he's working in Mogadishu, which is full of power politics and hasn't had a central government for two decades. And there are entrenched interests in the city happy to be working against him. So he may be treading gently.
SIEGEL: But if a journalist can be sent to jail for a year for interviewing someone who claimed she was raped, and if a woman can be put in jail for claiming she was raped, there's a pretty big chilling effect that could have on the news media in Somalia. What's the reaction to the case been there on that score in Mogadishu?
WARNER: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I've talked to a lot of people here in Mogadishu. Somalis have an amazing capacity for tremendous cynicism and tremendous hopefulness in the same breath. So I was in conversation with a couple of journalists yesterday about the fact that 18 Somali journalists were shot and killed last year. And in a way - to look at it really cynically - this journalist was only arrested and sentenced to one year. He wasn't killed. So they say, you know, hey, that's kind of an improvement
But on the other hand, you know, absolutely, there was tremendous optimism in this government's ability to make good on its promises and really change things. So there's a lot of disappointment today. Journalists are holding public protests about this case. That's a first in Mogadishu, in part because journalists never felt safe enough to protest in public.
And rape is also now very much in the Somali conversation. There are a lot of Somalis asking themselves what to do about this rape epidemic, they call it.
SIEGEL: OK. NPR's Gregory Warner in Mogadishu. Thank you, Greg.
WARNER: Thanks, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.