Only 8 months after conclusion of the last infamous rape-journalist case, Somalia police reportedly arrested on defamation charges Radio Shabelle journalist Mohamed Bashir Hashi and a 19-year-old woman he interviewed (above) who says she was raped by journalists from the the state-run Radio Mogadishu station.
Deep problems with sexual violence persist in Somalia, and the woman’s story deserves serious attention.
Unfortunately, two elements in this case are stealing the limelight from this important issue:
 The ongoing rivalry between Radio Shabelle and the Somali Federal Government (SFG)
Radio Shabelle has been unafraid to post unflattering news about Somali politicians and militants with often deadly consequences.
But the station’s journalists have said that in the past that they had been “ordered to report falsehoods” on the direction of the station’s owner, who allegedly was also briefly arrested in connection to the case.
Given the ramped up tension between Radio Shabelle and the SFG since the station was recently kicked out of its government-owned property, the media company has plenty of motivation to hit back.
As a result, Radio Shabelle’s ability to identify an alleged victim who accused two government-aligned journalists of rape is much more than just a curious footnote, and some media reports have failed to mention this key detail.
However, the woman’s claims should not be dismissed out of hand, and as many diplomats and rights groups have asserted, the allegations among all sides should be subject to a fair investigation with all sides entitled to legal representation and other freedoms.
This has not occurred due to a pattern of bungled government responses to threats from the media.
 The pattern of Somali government overreaction to perceived threats in the media
By again arresting the accusers and not the accused in another high-profile case, the Somali government in effect has minimized the amount of scrutiny both locally and internationally that could be directed toward Radio Shabelle; few reports have noted the station’s questionable history of reporting.
The questionable arrests also tarnish the government’s ability to ensure an objective investigation.
Similar to the response after the resignation of its Central Bank chief, spokespersons from the government have not responded optimally to the crisis. Spokesman from the office of the presidency Abdirahman Omar Osman (Eng Yarisow) attempted to clarify comments reportedly made to Al Jazeera journalists about the arrests, but in his retraction he did not specify which remarks he was clarifying.
He also repeated a similar line from the time of the last case involving a journalist and an alleged rape victim regarding political “interference.” He wrote:
“Somalia has an independent judiciary and we must allow the police and judiciary to carry out their investigations. It is inappropriate for the government to get involved in the judicial process as it is any other country. Justice must be allowed to take its course.”
While this is a firm principle from which to act, it appears that the actions of the police and judiciary are outside the scope of legal protocol and require oversight that should be within the bounds of higher authorities.
Simply overlooking these mis-steps or deferring to the independence of these still nascent institutions may be more an abdication of responsibility than a guarantor of justice.
Most of the world would like to focus this story on the ineffectiveness of the government’s response to the plight of the media and sexual violence in Somalia.
While these are important, it may obscure the need to explore the politics behind it all and the credibility of its major players–who have now brought a 19-year-old woman into their own tug-of-war match.
The SFG has handled the issue of the prospective new media law much better, as it has started to engage in local consultations and work with international partners to ensure it does not trample on media freedoms.
However, many onlookers will instead be judging the SFG’s stance on the media–and tolerance of sexual violence–through the lens of this most recent high-profile case.