February 18, 2013
Dear Mr. President,
As a Somali woman, an international women’s rights activist, and an African Union Ambassador for Peace and Security, I write to convey my deepest concerns for the recent conviction of a journalist and a woman alleging rape at the hands of government soldiers. I am shocked by this outrageous conviction and I urge you to remedy the situation as soon as possible, by exonerating the woman and the journalist, and ordering their immediate release from prison.
As I am sure you know well, on February 5, 2013, a Benadir regional court convicted journalist Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim and an alleged rape victim of multiple crimes under both the penal code and Sharia law. They have both been sentenced to one year in prison and Abdiaziz Abdinur remains in Mogadishu Central Prison.
I am deeply troubled by the police handling of this woman and her allegations. Months after reporting her allegation to the police, she was arrested on January 10 and held for two days. She was questioned without a lawyer, brought before the media and coerced to recant her story. She has been steadfast both before and after that media briefing that she was in fact raped in August 2012. Her husband was detained for almost two weeks after he stood by her and believed her allegation of rape. I fear that the treatment of this woman will prevent other survivors in Somalia from reporting sexual violence crimes. We know well that rape, female genital mutilation and other sexual violence have been widespread throughout the Somali conflict.
Police have also mishandled the case of journalist Abdiaziz Abdinur, who interviewed the woman in January 2013. He was arrested and held for 20 days without charge. Police obstructed his access to lawyers and doctors during his detention. At trial the defense wasn’t even permitted to put on witnesses or to rebut the prosecution’s case in any way.
In light of your strong personal commitment to ending sexual violence in Somalia, I understand that this case must be of great concern to you. I believe you understand that the mishandling of this case is undermining your new government’s expressed commitment to human rights, particularly addressing sexual violence and freedom of the press. This woman’s allegations should be investigated in a very serious and meaningful way.
I have great expectations for my country and for your new government. But your success hinges on greater respect for women’s rights and media rights. Therefore I appeal to you, my government and to our judges to ensure that there is peace, freedom and respect for one another in Somalia. To do this, I urge you to exonerate this young woman and free the journalist from prison.
Desert Flower Foundation
Founder and President African Union Ambassador for Peace and Security