A Somali court of appeals has adjourned the case of a journalist and a woman he interviewed who alleged that government forces had raped her, with proceedings set to resume next week.
Adjourning the hearing on Wednesday, Judge Hassan Mohamed Ali said that the court needed more time to study the evidence brought before it.
"We will resume the hearing at [on February 27] when we have looked at all the evidence and reached a decision on the witnesses," he said.
Both journalist Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim and the 27-year-old woman were sentenced to one year in prison during an earlier hearing. The charges included insulting a government body, making false accusations and seeking to profit from said allegations.
Rights activists, including US-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW), have alleged that the ruling was politically motivated, and urged the appeals court to acquit the two defendants.
Three other defendants were acquitted during the February 5 trial by a Benadir regional court.
At the trial, the judges did not permit the defence to present witnesses or evidence to rebut the prosecution's case. Prior to being charged, the woman was interrogated for two days by the police without a lawyer present, HRW said.
Following Wednesday's postponement, Mohamed Mohamud Afrah, Ibrahim's lawyer, told Al Jazeera that the defence's evidence had been accepted.
"Today our evidence was accepted in court. It also looks like our witnesses who were not heard before will be heard," he said.
Ibrahim, who has been under detention since January 10, began serving his sentence at Mogadishu Central Prison immediately after the trial. The woman is to begin her sentence after nursing her baby.
Somalia’s national journalists' union said that they were positive that there Ibrahim would be acquitted at the hearing next week.
"This hearing looks better than the one before. We have better hopes than before. All we want is justice for Ibrahim. Hopefully next Wednesday he will be free to resume his work," said Mohamed Ibrahim, secretary general of the National Union of Somali Journaalists (NUSOJ).
Ibrahim’s colleagues, many of whom came to court, however, were not pleased at Wednesday's developments. "It is not good, this adjournment, as he is going to spend another week in prison for just doing his work. We can’t wait to have him back in the office," said Hassan Ali Geesay, director at the local station where Ibrahim works.
"The court finds that he offended state institutions by making a false interview, and entering the house of a woman whose husband was not present," said Judge Ahmed Adan while announcing the earlier verdict.
The journalist's arrest followed increasing media attention on reported sexual abuse by Somalia security forces. Earlier in January, Universal TV - a local television station - and Al Jazeera's website separately published stories about allegations of rape in the city's crowded camps for displaced people.
Ibrahim had not been involved with either story, does not work for either organisation, and had not published anything of his own investigation before he was detained.
"The outcome of this case is crucial for both the reporting of sexual violence and press freedom in Somalia,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "This case is a travesty, but it could still end with justice prevailing."
The initial ruling by the local court raised concerns over sexual violence and press freedom in the country, which is ranked lower than Iran and China for press freedom in this year’s World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders.
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|Timothy V. Gatto|
|William A. Cook|