Sunday, January 23, 2011

Justice according to Al-Shabaab

Don’t shake hands with women, no football, no past- ankle-length trousers… prayer beads banned as well
Don’t shake hands with women, no football, no past- ankle-length trousers… prayer beads banned as well

Thursday, January 20 2011 at 18:01

When the punishment, 100 whip lashes, was postponed because she was pregnant Ms Anab Mussa thought she was the luckiest woman in the world. She had misread the Al-Shabaab-backed court.

The court in Wanlaweyn town, some 100 kilometres west of Mogadishu, had convicted Anab for having sexual relations out of wedlock.

Two weeks ago on January 4, having delivered, she received her public flogging at a gathering overseen by the court’s judge.

Her partner, Omar Mohamed Ahmed, who received the same number of lashes, had earlier been expelled from the town in accordance with Sharia (Islamic law.)

Anab’s punishment was light compared to what happened on the same day to 19-year-old Omar Mohamed Nur in the town of Baidoa, 240 kilometres southwest of the capital Mogadishu.

Nur had an arm and a leg, each from the opposite sides of his body, amputated by Al-Shabaab militants after a district judge convicted him of robbery.

“The sentence and its execution are consistent with Sharia,” intoned the judge, Sheikh Abu Faisal.

Welcome to the world of Al-Shabab, the feared Islamic militia that controls large swathes of central and southern Somalia.

It was perhaps its claim to the July 11 bombings of World Cup fans in Uganda which killed 75 people that shot Al-Shabaab to international infamy, but the group had by then already earned notoriety for its harsh interpretation of Islamic law and sustained siege on the country’s teetering transitional federal government.

Some 500 kilometres south of Mogadishu lies Kismayu, a picturesque port town that is Somalia’s third largest city. Its beauty belies the goings on within. Under full control of Al-Shabaab, here Sharia is applied to its fullest form.

Human rights and civil liberty activists often criticise the Islamic courts for not providing defence lawyers and convicting on insufficient evidence, in addition to speedy execution of harsh sentences.

Even moderate Islamists have their concerns, arguing that such severe punishments should be carried out by an all-agreed Islamic state and not a movement like Al-Shabaab that cannot guarantee the livelihood of amputees and other disability-causing punishments.

On January 14, the militants brought to the public square a man said to have stolen from a shop in the outskirts of Kismayu. He lost his right hand at the wrist after he allegedly confessed to having stolen Somali Shillings 1,900,000 (about $60) and rice worth SSh300,000 ($10).

Four men accused of stealing a gun and money were also presented to the crowd, and sentenced to hand amputations to be carried out in the “near future”. Such amputations are severe enough sentences, but others lose their lives through these controversial sentences.

In October 2008, the relatives of a woman stoned to death by militia members in the town on suspicion of adultery argued that she was only 13 years old. According to her parents, the girl was raped by three men and had been reporting the incident when she was instead arrested and charged.

Last year in October in Beledweyne town, some 335 kilometres north of Mogadishu, residents cried freely when two women were sentenced to death with the punishment being immediately carried out.

The residents disputed the spying charges against the two teenage girls and did little to hide their suspicion of an Al-Shabaab cover-up of, perhaps, rape by the militia’s own men to avoid scandal.

Despite the efforts of civil liberty activists, buzzwords such as individual freedoms and rights do not exist in the militia’s vocabulary in the areas they control. There have been a slew of cases of quite bizarre interpretation of Sharia.

One of the most notorious was in October 2009 when the militants carried out routine checks to ascertain if women wore brassieres.

Their use is considered un-Islamic by the militants. In most cases, young men would ask females to shake their bosoms vigorously. A firm body suggested a woman was wearing a bra.

What would then follow was an automatic order to remove the “offending” bra with humiliated women rushing home to comply.

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