Somali court clears woman in rape case

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MOGADISHU, Somalia -- An appeals court dropped charges Sunday against a woman who alleged she was raped by government forces and had been convicted of defaming the government.

Mogadishu appeals court Judge Mohamed Hassan Ali said there wasn't enough evidence to substantiate the charge. A court sentenced the woman last month to one year in prison after medical evidence entered into the record showed the woman was not raped. Some experts questioned whether Somalia has the medical expertise to make such a judgment.

A journalist who interviewed the woman and was tried alongside her had his sentence reduced from one year to six months. The judge said the interview was not conducted according to journalism ethics or Somali law.

The February verdict against the two provoked international outcry by human rights groups. Human Rights Watch said yesterday it wasn't satisfied with the appeals court's decision.

"The court of appeals missed a chance to right a terrible wrong, both for the journalist and for press freedom in Somalia," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

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Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon welcomed the decision and said "we are a step closer to justice being done."

"However, I was hoping for a different outcome on the journalist," he said. "We must have freedom of expression, which is guaranteed in our constitution."

Mogadishu has moved past the violence that engulfed the capital for much of the last two decades. In a sign of its progress, the United States officially recognized the country's government earlier this year for the first time in two decades.

Rights groups decried the case against the woman and the reporter, freelance journalist Abdiaziz Abdinur, as politically motivated because the woman had accused security forces of the assault. Abdinur was convicted despite never having published any story based on the interview with the woman.

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