Somali court jails alleged rape victim

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A Mogadishu court reads out the verdict February 5, 2013, jailing a woman who claimed she was raped by security forces

Mogadishu court chairman Ahmed Aden Farah reads a verdict inside a court in Mogadishu on February 5, 2013, jailing a woman who claimed she was raped by security forces, for insulting state institutions in a case that has alarmed the United Nations and rights groups

A Somali court jailed a woman, who said she was raped by security forces, for insulting state institutions in a case that has sparked international alarm.

The woman and a journalist, who interviewed her but did not broadcast a story about the case, were each jailed for one year.

Judge Ahmed Adan said the woman was guilty of "offending state institutions" by claiming she was raped. He ordered her to start the jail term after she has finished breastfeeding her infant.

Journalist Abdiaziz Abdinuur, 25, is already in detention and was to begin his sentence immediately. He was found guilty of offending state institutions "by making a false interview, and entering the house of a woman whose husband was not present."

Abdinuur works for several Somali radio stations and international media. He was detained on January 10 while researching sexual violence in Somalia. He did not air or print any report after interviewing the woman.

Three other defendants, including the husband of the alleged victim, and a man and woman who helped introduce her to the journalist, were found not guilty.

Defence lawyers said they would appeal the guilty verdicts.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was "deeply disappointed" by the jail term, said his spokesman Martin Nesirky.

Ban said cases of sexual violence in camps for the displaced in Somalia are under-reported and highlighted the "extraordinary courage" it takes for victims to come forward.

He called on the Somali government to "ensure that all allegations of sexual violence are investigated fully and perpetrators are brought to justice.

"Above all, it is essential that the rights of the alleged victim and the journalist to a fair and transparent judicial process, including the right of appeal, are fully respected," he added.

Washington also said it was "deeply concerned" by the court's decision and by reports of "procedural irregularities and witness intimidation" and had urged the Somali government to uphold the constitution.

"Women should be able to seek justice for rape and other gender-based violence without fear of retribution, and journalists in Somalia must be free to work without being subjected to violence and harassment," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said meanwhile he had raised the case with Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud during talks in London Tuesday.

"The decision of the court was contrary to Somali laws as well as international laws," lawyer Mohamed Mohamud Afrah told reporters, adding he had not been given a proper chance to defend the woman or the journalist.

Mohamed Ibrahim, head of Somali's journalist union, called the jail terms a "miscarriage of justice and an attack on the freedom of the press."

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a joint statement that the case is "linked to increasing media attention given to the high levels of rape" including by security forces, in Somalia.

The country has been ravaged by conflict since 1991. But a new UN-backed government took power in September ending eight years of transitional rule by a corruption-riddled government.

Many have said the new government offers the most serious hope for stability since the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

Last week, President Mohamud and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton issued a joint statement saying "a new Somalia is defying the cynicism of outsiders".

Somalia needs "a justice system offering fair access to all", the statement said, warning that "without security for every Somali citizen there will not be the rule of law and the space for economic development".

HRW said the case against the woman "makes a mockery" of such comments.