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Group: Somali journalist detained without trial

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MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — A Somali journalist is being detained without charge in Somalia for speaking out against the imprisonment of a fellow reporter, said an international human rights group.

Daud Abdi Daud has been held without charge since Feb. 5 and his detention is sending a broader message to Somali journalists to stay silent, said Human Rights Watch in a statement released Tuesday.

According to the rights group, Daud's arrest stems 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 spoke out in court saying that journalists have the right to interview people.

After Daud reportedly added that he would even seek to interview the president's wife, the police arrested him, the group said.

Human Rights Watch has asked Somali authorities to immediately charge or release Daud.

"The authorities should charge or release him, but 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.

Somali Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon on Tuesday said that due process must be observed in the administration of justice.

"We have an independent judiciary in Somalia and although the government cannot and must not be involved in the administration of justice, I am urging due process to be followed at all times," he said in a statement.

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.

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 Tuesday.

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.

The charges and resulting sentences may result in even fewer victims of sexual assault coming forward to report attacks in conservative Somalia, rights groups fear.

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 since 2007.

During the International Day to End Impunity last year the National Union of Somali Journalists said that impunity has become a fundamental problem in Somalia.

Journalists in almost every region of the country commonly face harassment, blackmail, arbitrary police detention and, in addition, criminals are hired to suppress them, said the group.

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