Page last updated at 07:55 GMT, Wednesday, 20 May 2009 08:55 UK

Somali justice - Islamist-style

Mohamed Omar Ismail's hand is shown to the crowds before being chopped off

By Mohamed Mohamed
BBC Somali Service

The dusty streets of Kismayo in Somalia echoed to the sound of a vehicle with loudspeakers summoning residents to a new form of public "entertainment" earlier this month.

People were being invited to see a man have his hand chopped off in a public park in the city.

The young man, Mohamed Omar Ismail, had been found guilty of stealing goods from another man's house.

That afternoon, hundreds of local people flocked to Freedom Park in order to see the amputation.

After a long wait, Mr Ismail was brought out in front of the people and an official started to read out the court decision from a piece of paper.

Clothes theft

"The Islamic Sharia court of Kismayo district confirms that Mohamed Omar Ismail has been found guilty of stealing," the official announced.

"Mr Ismail stole 10 pairs of trousers, 10 shirts, eight other items and a bag. The value of all the items is estimated to be $90."


The official quoted a chapter from the Koran known as Surah Maida, verse 38, which is about stealing and relevant punishment.

He said that the verse decreed that punishment for stealing was that the right hand of the thief should be cut off.

A local journalist who witnessed the events unfold saw a shocked-looking Mr Ismail brought into the park.

His right hand was held up to the crowds.

It was then laid on a table and severed immediately and without ceremony at the wrist.

Bloody hand dangled

The eyewitness told of his horror as the bloody body part was dangled by its index finger in front of the crowd to prove that punishment had been meted out.

Mr Ismail is now recovering from his injury in Kismayo General Hospital, where he is being guarded by the Islamist militia who punished him.

Mohamed Omar Ismail
Mohamed Omar Ismail reportedly insists he did not commit the burglary

They do not allow him to talk to the media.

But according to an independent source, Mr Ismail insists he did not commit the burglary for which he lost his hand.

He said he was still appalled at what had happened to him and the terrible pain he had suffered.

Although there have been several executions and a number of public floggings meted out in the swathes of central and southern Somalia currently controlled by hardline Islamists, this is believed to have been just the second amputation this year.

Michelle Kagari, of Amnesty International's Africa programme, said: "Punishments like these illustrate the extent to which violence still substitutes for the rule of law in many areas of Somalia."

She said she wanted the United Nations to take concrete steps to stop such human rights abuses, and that an independent commission of inquiry or similar mechanism should be set up to investigate.

'Due process'

Amnesty International has also called on the fragile Somali transitional government - and the militias which currently run Kismayo and other parts of the south - to publicly condemn all human rights abuses, including punishments carried out without due process of law.

Mohamed Omar Ismail's severed hand lies on the table in the background; Koran is read in the foreground
It is believed to have been the second amputation in Somalia this year

But the Somali government is more preoccupied struggling to withstand the latest onslaught by the opposition radical alliance of the Islamic party (Hisbul-Islam) and al-Shabab.

On Sunday, fighters from the al-Shabab group, which is linked to al-Qaeda, took the key town of Jowhar from government forces. A spokesman for the group said Sharia would be imposed there.

Earlier this year, the Western-backed moderate Islamist government based in Mogadishu announced the introduction of Sharia law throughout the country.

But this failed to appease the hardliners, who follow the Wahhabi school of Islam, based on a more rigid reading of Islamic texts, rather than the mainstream Sunni faith practised by most Somalis.

Alien culture

Amputations and the recent stoning to death of a 13-year-old mentally disabled girl are shocking displays of al-Shabab's interpretation of Islamic law.

And their writ extends into everyday life.

An Islamist fighter opposed to the government, near the presidential palace in Mogadishu on 17 May 2009
Correspondents say Somalia is sliding deeper into chaos

Now, women who do not wear hijab in al-Shabab-run areas are prohibited from leaving their homes.

They are instructed to cover themselves from head to toe. No part of their body is permitted to be seen in public.

This culture is alien to many Somali women, particularly those in rural areas who work in farms or herd goats, sheep and cattle.

These women work very hard under the scorching sun and wearing such dresses makes their already difficult life harder still.

But their fear of the new administrators means they have no other option but to comply.

There are reports that local women, who are not well off, are going to tailors and markets to buy these dresses.

The robes are locally known as jalaabiibs and cost between $12 and $15 (£9.70).

Amnesty International say opposition leaders in Somalia carry out punishments without any oversight or accountability.

But the harsh punishments and killings that take place are unlikely to end while the government, the Islamists and now the Ethiopians struggle to control the country.

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