After Mohammed Bashir, a reporter for Somalia’s Radio Shabelle, interviewed a 19-year-old Somali woman about being raped by two journalists who work for the state-owned station Radio Mogadishu, both the journalist and the woman were arrested last week. Radio Shabelle’s chairman, Abdimalik Yusuf Mohamud, has also been arrested.
Rape is a “persistent problem” in Somalia according to the United Nations. 1,700 women were raped last year in camps for displaced people in the capital of Mogadishu; 70 percent of rapes were reportedly carried out by men in military uniforms, according to the Telegraph.
Radio Shabelle operates independently and is “considered the most popular and influential domestic station” in Somalia. Bashir’s arrest is the second time in the past that Radio Shabelle has come under fire from authorities. Somali troops had raided the station’s offices in Mogadishu on October 26, saying that it was in a government building that had been vacated. Mohamud, Radio Shabelle’s chairman, had contended that the government was trying to silence his station.
The unnamed young woman had told Bashir that
“One of the men threatened me with a pistol, and took me to the bedroom by force…both of them raped me several times, destroying my pride and dignity.”
“I am appealing to the government to take legal action against the rapists, they might have done the same to other poor girls.”
The woman’s interview was posted on YouTube and broadcast on the Radio Shabelle website last week.
Authorities say that the young woman and Bashir have been charged with defamation and kept them in detention. The two journalists who allegedly committed the rape have not been arrested.
Last Thursday, Nicholas Kay, the U.N. special representative for Somalia, said that the U.N. was now monitoring the “new rape allegation in Mogadishu” and has issued a warning that “legal representation, proper investigation and media freedom (are) important issues.”
Somali Government Has Previously Quashed Reports of Rape
The Somali government’s suppression of the press in cases of rape is not new. It has arguably become a “common occurrence” for journalists and alleged rape victims to be arrested under the current government, Somalia’s first internationally recognized since 1991.
In a case that drew international condemnation, another Somali journalist and a survivor of rape were jailed in February for a year for “offending state institutions.” They were released after two months in the wake of intense international criticism.
In August, police detained a Somali woman who had allegedly been abducted and gang raped by African Union soldiers. She was also questioned by security services at the national intelligence facilities of the presidential palace and by committee members at the shelter where she has been housed. On both of these occasions, she was denied access to legal counsel in violation of international legal standards and best practices, Human Rights Watch underscores.
“There are now a lot of issues that I’m facing,” the woman told Human Rights Watch. “I can never go back to where I came from because everybody is talking about me. My husband is having challenges… I’m wondering, what is next for me?”
A journalist who interviewed the woman and those who helped her with medical assistance and shelter have all been harassed by the military, intelligence services and the police. As Human Rights Watch states, while the government has undertaken an investigation, it is “deeply flawed” and a new one that is impartial and transparent must be conducted.
Government spokesman Abdirahman Omar Osman says that “journalists perform a critical role and we want them to be able to work without fear or favor” and that “a free press is at the heart of every democracy and is guaranteed under our new constitution.” But the Somali government still has far to go to take sufficient measures to ensure that a transparent legal investigation of rape is carried out and that the country is indeed a democracy with a free press.
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