Journalist freed but may face charges

Abdi Guled/AP Writer

A Somali journalist was freed after being detained without charges for more than a week for speaking out against the imprisonment of a fellow reporter.

Daud Abdi Daud was released but he said Wednesday that the Somali government wants to charge him in court with “offending the president’s wife.” Government officials declined to comment on Daud’s claim that he will be charged.

Daud, a Radio Kulmiye reporter, said he was released Tuesday after more than a week in custody, though authorities treated him well.

He said his arrest stemmed from an incident last week when a Mogadishu court handed down one-year prison sentences to a woman who said she was raped by security forces and a reporter who interviewed her.

Daud said he spoke at the court saying that a journalist can interview any woman at her home, even if she is the president’s wife, and that prompted his arrest.

Journalists‘ rights groups expressed outrage over Daud’s arrest. Human Rights Watch asked Somali authorities to immediately charge or release Daud.

“They should not be shutting down free expression by jailing journalists and throwing away the key,” said Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. Somali authorities declined to comment on Daud’s arrest.

Reporters Without Borders said the arrest is an obvious act of intimidation, one that casts doubt on the sincerity of the Somali authorities.

“The police and courts must not become an additional threat to Somali journalists, who are already exposed to enormous dangers,” the group said.

Somali Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon on Tuesday said that due process must be observed in the administration of justice. Shirdon said that the Independent Task Force on Human Rights, which was launched earlier this month, will be looking at human rights abuses committed over the past 12 months.

“I reiterate my government’s commitment to a free press and freedom of speech. Journalists should feel that they are not alone. It is essential that they are able to work freely and effectively without facing additional difficulties,” Shirdon said.

Somalia is one of the world’s most dangerous countries in which to practice journalism, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Last year 18 Somali journalists were killed yet no one was arrested. So far this year one reporter has been killed making it 45 journalists killed since 2007.

The alleged rape victim in the case Daud attended was charged with insulting a government body, inducing false evidence, simulating a criminal offense and making a false accusation. Freelance journalist Abdiaziz Abdinur was charged with insulting a government body and inducing the woman to give false evidence. Three others charged in the case, including the woman’s husband, were acquitted. All the defendants denied the charges in court.

Rights groups said the handling of the rape case is politically motivated because the woman had accused security forces of the assault. Rape is reported to be rampant in Mogadishu, where tens of thousands of people who fled last year’s famine live in poorly protected camps. Government troops are often blamed.