Somalia Sentences Woman, Journalists for Reporting Rape

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A woman who reported a rape and the two journalists who covered the story were found guilty of defamation and insulting state institutions in Somalia and were sentenced to jail by a court.

The case represents the second time this year that a Somali court has sentenced a woman who has spoken out after being raped and the journalist who reported it.

In the current case, a 19-year-old woman who was working as a journalist for the UN-funded Kasmo FM radio station alleged that she answered a call from a male journalist working for Radio Mogadishu, a state-run station, asking her for help without specifying what he wanted from her.

The young woman said she met the caller, was driven to a house where she was held overnight and raped at gun point by him and another journalist.  

The two journalists who were accused by the woman have not been brought before a court. The woman subsequently told the story of what happened to her to two journalists from another station who publicized the story.

The rape victim received a suspended six-month jail sentence for lying and defamation, during which time she will be under house arrest. The manager of the radio station that publicized the story received a jail sentence of one year for offending state institutions and the other journalist who interviewed the woman received a jail term of six months for defamation and making false rape accusations.

Both journalists will be allowed to pay a fine of the equivalent of one dollar a day for each day of their sentence instead of serving jail time. For the journalist sentenced to one-year in prison, the amount of the fine represents more than the average yearly income in Somalia, estimated by the Central Bank of Somalia at $333 per year.

Earlier this year, another woman who reported being gang raped by armed men in uniform was sentenced to one year in prison for making false accusations and “insulting a government body.” The journalist who reported the crime was found similarly guilty and sentenced as well.

After an international outcry, the verdict was overturned on appeal.

Due to the extreme stigma attached to rape victims in Somalia, non-governmental agencies (NGOs) say that most rapes go unreported.  Besides the possibility of being sent to prison for reporting a rape (for both the victim and the journalist), "The consequences for the victim after she goes public can also be life-changing. If you interview her and people know who the victim is, she will be stigmatized and may never find a husband — or she may even be disowned by the society,"  said Mohamed Mohamud Dahir, a well-known journalist from SKY FM, as quoted by Al Jazeera .

Because of the stigma as well as the possibility of being sent to prison, many NGOs have taken to helping rape victims – who they report as being in the thousands (versus the government, who say the numbers are in the hundreds) – without the involvement  of  a hospital or the police.

Sagal Sheik-Ali, a program coordinator at the Somali Women Development Centre, said now NGOs are changing their procedures for helping victims of rape. "In most instances when a rape takes place, we are called and informed of it. We send a team of caseworkers to visit the survivor, or ask the person contacting us to bring them to us if the survivor is able. Then we conduct an interview to find out about the incident, which is then followed with the survivor being taken to have a medical test. These steps provide enough evidence to suggest almost immediately if it is rape," Sheikh-Ali said.   

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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org