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Last updated: June 2022

This sub-profile refers to individuals (perceived as) contravening Islamic laws, including apostates, converts, blasphemers and individuals (perceived) as having committed hadd crimes, in Al-Shabaab controlled areas. For an overview of Al-Shabaab controlled areas see 1.3. Al-Shabaab under section Actors of persecution or serious harm.

COI summary

[Actors, 4.1, 4.4; Targeting, 3.1]

Al-Shabaab’s governance is Sharia-based, having established their own courts and imposing a strict version of Sharia including banning television, cinemas, music, the use of the internet and watching and playing sports, having illicit content on cell phones, smoking, the sale of khat, the shaving of beards and other behaviour it considers ‘un-Islamic’. Women are required to be fully veiled and specific ways of praying and reciting the Quran are imposed. Returnees from abroad who have acquired types of behaviour that may be viewed as ‘western’, going back to an Al-Shabaab-controlled area (because this is where their family or clan happens to live) must act cautiously and need to ‘change their ways of life fundamentally’ in order to adapt to the rules imposed by Al-Shabaab.

Not all bans are imposed uniformly in all areas under the control of Al-Shabaab. Reportedly, Al-Shabaab has imposed harsh punishments including detention under inhuman conditions for these relatively minor offenses.

Executions, amputations or other corporal punishments have been imposed for the so called hadd crimes (e.g. violations of God’s limits). Hadd (huduud in plural) crimes can include cases of espionage, adultery, unlawful sexual intercourse, theft, banditry, drug dealing, alcohol consumption and drug abuse, etc. Al-Shabaab reportedly carried out arbitrary arrests on the basis of unverified or false accusations. The group’s courts did not permit legal representation or appeals, victims were not consulted, the broader circumstances of an offence were not taken into account, and circumstantial evidence was widely used in hadd cases.The degree of implementation of such punishments varies depending on the Al-Shabaab members in charge and the local situation. It was reported that the group showed greater tolerance in areas where its control was undisputed or with regard to its own members, while in newly conquered towns or villages several such punishments were meted out publicly demonstrating ‘exemplary violence’ in order to instil fear and assert control over the population.

Warnings and threats were reportedly made even to low-profile individuals who may have acted in opposition to Al-Shabaab, for example by presenting views in a mosque that run counter to Al-Shabaab’s ideology before striking with force, injuring or abducting people or even wiping out entire nuclear families. Because of the limited capacity of Al-Shabaab to carry out those acts systematically, when carried out, those acts are done in an exemplary manner.

Al-Shabaab has also targeted followers of less conservative strands of Islam as ‘apostates’, including those who practice Sufism. Sufi practitioners cannot freely practice their religion in Al-Shabaab controlled areas and they have been reportedly subjected to discrimination, attacks, punishments and killings.

Suspected Christian converts were threatened with executions. Killings of suspected converts had also been reported in past years, however, no such reports could be found from 2020 or the first half of 2021. Al-Shabaab has also reportedly continued to harass secular and faith-based humanitarian aid organisations, threatening the lives of their personnel and accusing them of seeking to convert individuals to Christianity.

Statements perceived as blasphemous are reportedly extremely dangerous and could lead to execution by Al-Shabaab, among other punishments. Public executions of persons accused of ‘sorcery’ by Al-Shabaab have also been reported.

Risk analysis

The acts to which individuals under this profile could be exposed are of such severe nature that they would amount to persecution (e.g. execution, killing, amputation, other forms of corporal punishment).

Individuals perceived by Al-Shabaab as contravening Islamic laws would in general have a well-founded fear of persecution in areas under its control.

Nexus to a reason for persecution

Available information indicates that persecution of this profile is highly likely for reasons of religion.