Page last updated at 12:54 GMT, Monday, 19 April 2010 13:54 UK

Somalia's al-Shabab militia 'improving security'

An al-Shabab fighter stands guard over a crowd during a court session in Mogadishu on 22 June 2009
Al-Shabab's interpretation of Sharia has been strict

Somali al-Shabab Islamists have brought greater stability to parts of Somalia, but at a huge cost to the local population, Human Rights Watch says.

A report by the US-based group details killings, repression and harsh Sharia law punishments, including amputations.

"The price that people had to pay for that relative degree of security was really just incredible," the report's author Chris Albin-Lackey told the BBC.

Somalia has been wracked by civil conflict since 1991.

In recent years, hardline Islamists have taken control of large parts of southern Somalia.

The main al-Shabab group says it is fighting the weak UN-backed government to make Somalia an Islamic state.

The transitional government - which controls only parts of the capital with the help of African peacekeepers - also wants Islamic law imposed, but al-Shabab's interpretation of Sharia has been very strict.

Correspondents say Somalis have traditionally practised a moderate and tolerant form of Islam.


"People from many parts of southern Somalia did give the al-Shabab authorities credit for bringing about a kind of stability that many areas had not known for many years," Mr Albin-Lackey told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

Offences can lead to punishments ranging from flogging to imprisonment, even to the possibility of being executed
HRW's Chris Albin-Lackey

The Islamists have wiped out "banditry and freelance militias that have plagued people" but that stability has often come at the price of justice, he said.

"In many places al-Shabab authorities have put in place incredibly draconian interpretations of Sharia law and have enforced those in ways that offer people really no kind of due process."

Offences ranging from men wearing their hair too long to women venturing out without the right kind of dress, he said.

"All of these offences can lead to punishments ranging from flogging to imprisonment, even to the possibility of being executed."

Last week, al-Shabab banned teachers in one town from using bells in school as they sounded too much like Christian church bells.

The hardline Islamists also disapprove of music and have shut down cinemas and banned the watching of football matches.

Another group, Hizbul-Islam, banned music from radios in Mogadishu earlier in April.

Print Sponsor


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2020 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific