MOGADISHU, Somalia (Reuters) — A Somali court on Sunday freed a journalist who was jailed in January for interviewing a woman who said she was gang-raped by five government soldiers, a case that sparked international condemnation over Somalia's treatment of victims of sexual violence and its commitment to press freedom.
Aidid Abdillahi Ilkahanaf, chairman of the Somali High Court, which freed the freelance journalist, told reporters, “We have no evidence to support his charges.”
The journalist, Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim, was arrested after speaking with the 27-year-old woman, who was also arrested and charged with making a false accusation. They were convicted in February after a trial that human rights groups said was politically motivated, aimed at covering up rampant sexual abuse of women by the security forces.
Despite the fact that Mr. Ibrahim's interview was never published, both were sentenced to one year in jail after a judge found them guilty of fabricating the rape to besmirch the Somali government, a verdict that was heavily criticized by the United States and other countries.
The United States State Department said the verdict sent “the wrong message to perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence” and expressed concern about witness intimidation during the trial.
The woman was released on appeal earlier this month, but Mr. Ibrahim's sentence was upheld, though reduced to six months, setting off protests by Somali journalists.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, based in New York, said that verdict was a “direct assault on press freedom” in Somalia, a country recovering after two decades of civil war and Islamist insurgencies.
Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon Saaid has promised to reform the country's armed forces and the judiciary, acknowledging “deep-seated problems” with both institutions.
After the court announced his release, Mr. Ibrahim thanked fellow journalists for helping secure his release.
“I'm happy to be free,” he said.