Abdiazaz Abdinur Ibrahim: “Yes, I will continue to be a journalist.”

Abdiazaz Abdinur Ibrahim: “Yes, I will continue to be a journalist.”

On March 17, Somalia’s Supreme Court ordered the release of a journalist sentenced to a year in prison for interviewing a woman who claimed to have been raped by Somali government forces. Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim spent more than two months in prison in a case that received international condemnation from organizations like the United Nations and Human Rights Watch and attention from media outlets around the world.

Abdiaziz, 25, was detained on January 10 and charged on January 29 with “insulting state institutions.” He was accused of paying women to provide false information regarding rape in camps for internally displaced people. Lul Ali Osman Barake, the 27-year-old gang rape victim, was charged with “insulting a political body” among other crimes. She was also sentenced to a year in prison, but won her appeal before serving any time.

On March 17, the chief judge of the Somali Supreme Court stated, "After having seen that…the journalist remains in jail for six months without proper reason, the supreme court here decides to fully release the journalist Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim from prison," effectively dropping all allegations against him.

The ruling was cause for celebration around the world, as other Somali journalists, press freedom supporters and human rights activists greeted Abdiaziz outside of the courtroom. The secretary-general of the National Union of Somali Journalists released a statement saying, “It seems that the Somali justice system is coming to reality and I hope that no journalist inside Somalia will be arrested for his work.”

This case highlights an increase in media attention on the reports of sexual abuse committed by Somali government forces. Just before Abdiaziz’s arrest, Somali television station Universal TV and Al Jazeera each published a news story about rape allegations in Mogadishu’s internally displaced people camps.

The UN Secretary General's Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, stated, "Regardless of the facts of the case, journalists have a right to report on allegations of rape and survivors should not be discouraged from coming forward to report sexual assault cases to the authorities.” She went on to say that “the approach taken by the Somali police…only serves to criminalize victims and undermine freedom of expression for the press.”

Hopefully after the influx of international criticism, Somalia’s government will be more diligent about holding their forces responsible for acts of violence. Unfortunately, this is unlikely. Somalia is one of the worst places in the world for a woman to live, according to a Thomas Reuters Foundation Poll. The survey cites the maternal mortality ratio, the risk of sexual assault, and female genital mutilation processes in a lawless country that has experienced an ongoing conflict for more than twenty years. Somalia’s Women’s Minister Maryan Qasim states, "Rape was used in the beginning as a weapon of war, but now women who are from a minority or who have been displaced can be raped at any minute. I've seen a case of rape as young as five years old." She does not believe that this will change in the near future, particularly in the face of the Abdiaziz trial.

Women in Somalia are too intimidated to come forward to report sexual attacks, especially when they risk arrest and incarceration. There can be no semblance of human rights in a country where the media cannot seek justice for the victims of government violence, or where victims of rape are blamed when a man violates their body. After winning her appeal, Barake told the Guardian, a U.K. news source, "I was a victim and I was given a one-year jail term. No female victim in Somalia will feel able to talk about this. Rape victims will stay silent in their home and not tell anyone.”

Abdiaziz has similarly lost faith in the Somali justice system. Upon his release from prison, he said, “I don't have confidence in the court and justice system here because of my experience and what happened to me.” However, he still intends to work as a journalist. “I saw how the justice system works for victims, how the security forces work and deal with people and also how life is inside prisons in Somalia. With this lesson and experience I hope to help others in similar circumstances,” he said. “Yes, I will continue to be a journalist. With my experience I hope to help others who are going through what I went through.” It is only with the bravery of men and women like Abdaiaziz and Barake that corrupt and violent government forces can be exposed to local and global audiences: audiences with the potential to effect change.