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3.8.2. Individuals (perceived as) contravening Islamic and customary tenets outside Al-Shabaab controlled areas

Last update: June 2022

This sub-profile focuses on individuals (perceived as) contravening Islamic and customary tenets, including apostates, converts, blasphemers, individuals belonging to religious minorities or (perceived) having committed hadd crimes and other individuals perceived as contravening moral norms, in areas outside the control of Al-Shabaab.

COI summary

The Provisional Constitution of the Federal Republic of Somalia and the constitutions of the FMS, including Somaliland, stipulate that Islam is the State religion, the promotion of other religions is prohibited and the law must be in accordance with Sharia [Targeting, 3.2., p. 52].

Freedom of religion is stipulated in the Provisional Constitution of the Federal Republic of Somalia and the Constitution of Somaliland while laws with provisions on religious freedom do not exist in Galmudug, Hirshabelle and South-West state [Targeting, 3.2., p. 52].

With regard to religious matters, it is reported that each community individually regulates and enforces these matters often in ways that are inconsistent. Al-Shabaab seeks to impose its strict interpretation of Islam even outside the territories under its control, using threats and intimidation [Targeting, 3.2., p. 52].

The Sharia, applicable in the whole country, has been interpreted as forbidding apostasy, including conversion. Legal provisions explicitly prohibiting conversion from Islam exist in Somaliland and Puntland. Somalia’s authorities and population generally show no tolerance towards converts from Islam. Arrests of individuals accused of apostasy under Sharia law have been reported. Families and clans have applied vigilante justice in cases of apostasy. Persons believed to be converts, as well as their families, have reportedly been harassed and physically attacked in their local communities. [Targeting, 3.1., p. 50].

Being accused of proselytising Muslims is something that is ‘extremely dangerous’ in all parts of Somalia. Arrests have been reported following allegations of propagating Christianity and missionary activity. [Targeting, 3.2., p. 53].

Blasphemy is punishable under the Penal Code with imprisonment up to two years and a fine. Making blasphemous statements is ‘extremely dangerous’ in all parts of Somalia. In 2021, Al-Shabaab has reportedly killed and called on people to execute individuals they considered to have committed blasphemy, even in areas outside of its control. In 2019 a university professor was arrested and sentenced to two and a half years of imprisonment on charges of blasphemy and while he later received a presidential pardon, he continued to receive death threats in 2020. [Targeting, 3.2., p. 54].

Christians and other religious minorities have reported that they were unable to practise their faith in an open manner. An incident of severe beating of a seven-year-old Christian boy was reported in October 2020 in Lower Jubba. Al-Shabaab attacks targeting Sufi rituals that are practised publicly have been reported even in areas outside of its control. Non-militant Salafists and Sufis were reportedly able to co-exist peacefully, in some areas. [Targeting, 3.2., p. 54].

No reports dating from 2020 or the first half of 2021 have been found on the sanctioning of hadd crimes (e.g. adultery or zina) in areas of Somalia that are not directly controlled by Al-Shabaab. [Targeting, 3.2., p. 54].

Although there were no official restrictions on attending cultural events, playing music, or going to the cinema outside the territories controlled by Al-Shabaab, returnees to Somalia often come back with habits which are unfamiliar to Somali society and are viewed as transgressing the norms of Islamic or Somali culture. Individuals who behave in ‘odd’ ways, for example because they are drunk or have been taking drugs, ‘run a high risk’ of losing the support of their families and may be subjected to lasting societal pressure and stigma, although it rarely happens that a returnee will be ousted altogether. Cases of returnees ending up in mental hospitals or confined in religious rehabilitation centres, where persons are subjected to physical and psychological abuse as part of the treatment, have been also reported. However, during the reference period, reports of specific incidents targeting returnees for westernised behaviour were scarce. [Targeting, 3.2., p. 55].


Conclusions and guidance 

   Do the acts qualify as persecution under Article 9 QD?   

Acts reported to be committed against individuals under this profile are of such severe nature that they amount to persecution (e.g. killings by Al-Shabaab, some forms of physical violence by family members/conservative elements in local community and Al-Shabaab). Prosecution for acts which are not considered criminal according to international standards (e.g. adultery) would also amount to persecution. When the acts in question are restrictions of less severe nature on the exercise of certain rights (e.g. some restrictions to freedom of religion), the individual assessment of whether they could amount to persecution should take into account the severity and/or repetitiveness of the acts or whether they occur as an accumulation of various measures.

When considering such applications, the case officer should take into account that it cannot reasonably be expected that an applicant will abstain from his or her religious practices in order to avoid persecutionCJEU, Y and Z, para 80.. It should be noted that the concept of religion shall in particular include the holding of theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs (Article 10(1)(b) QD).


   What is the level of risk of persecution (well-founded fear)?   

In the case of (those perceived as) apostates, converts, proselytisers or blasphemers, in general, well-founded fear of persecution would be substantiated in the whole of Somalia, including South-Central Somalia, Puntland and Somaliland.

In the case of other individuals (perceived as) contravening Islamic and customary tenets in areas outside of the control of Al-Shabaab, the individual assessment of whether there is a reasonable degree of likelihood for the applicant to face persecution should take into account risk-impacting circumstances, such as: nature and visibility of activities of the applicant, belonging to a religious minority (e.g. Christians being at higher risk), area of origin in relation to presence or operational capacity of Al-Shabaab, etc.

   Are the reasons for persecution falling within Article 10 QD (nexus)?   

Available information indicates that persecution of this profile is highly likely to be for reasons of religion. In some cases, persecution may be for reasons of membership of a particular social group. For example, individuals seen as transgressing moral norms may have a well-founded fear of persecution based on their common background which cannot be changed (perceived past behaviour) or a shared characteristic or belief that is so fundamental to identity or conscience that they should not be forced to renounce it (opposition to cultural, social or religious norms and the unwillingness to comply with them). They may also be considered to have a distinct identity in Somalia, as they may be viewed as being different from the surrounding society (e.g. stigmatisation).

A thorough individual assessment should take place to whether the particular characteristic or belief is fundamental to the identity or conscience of the applicant.