Two Women Reportedly Sentenced to Death for "Unnatural Behavior"
The International Gay and
Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), March 1, 2001
1360 Mission Street, Suite 200, San Francisco, CA 94103, USA
Telephone: +1-415-255-8680; Fax: +1-415-255-8662
Two Women Reportedly Sentenced To Death For "Unnatural Behavior"
The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) is
gravely concerned by reports that two women have been sentenced to death for
"unnatural behavior" in the city of Boosaaso in the autonomous
region of Puntland, northeast Somalia.
Accounts of the sentence have been widely circulated in the international
media, as well as by newspapers in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. However,
other sources, as well as local press in Puntland, have denied the story.
Tensions are high between local authorities in Puntland and officials in
the Somalian capital of Mogadishu. Puntland officials have accused the
Mogadishu press of inventing this story in order to discredit them.
Information received by IGLHRC from a reliable source familiar with Puntland
indicates that a journalist for the local press in Boosaaso who initially
reported on the story may have been arrested.
IGLHRC is concerned that denials by Puntland authorities may be unreliable.
We therefore call for URGENT letters to Puntland authorities asking for
official clarification concerning the story, and asking, in the event it is
confirmed, that the women be pardoned and freed.
Write IMMEDIATELY to Puntland authorities at:
His Excellency Abdullahi Yusuf Axmed
President, Puntland State of Somalia
Tel. +252-944-5670 OR +252-914-470-7238
Fax +252-944-6503 or +252-54-54024 or +252-523-4801
The Honorable Ismail H. Warsame
Chief of Cabinet
President, Puntland State of Somalia
Communications in Somalia are difficult. If IGLHRC is able to obtain better
or more reliable contact information for Puntland officials, you will be
notified in an update.
A sample letter is found below. Your letter should be respectful and
simple. Do NOT refer to the women as "lesbians." Although this
identification has been widely disseminated in the international media, it is
not sustained by the known facts and will not assist their case. Stress that
the severity of the reported sentences is unjust and violates both human
rights norms and ordinary standards of fairness.
Letters from individuals or organizations on the African continent will be
Letters or approaches to officials of the Somali central government, or
embassies or consulates of Somalia, are unlikely to be effective, since the
Puntland local authorities do not recognize the government in Mogadishu.
We are gravely concerned by recent press reports that, on February 19,
2001, two women were sentenced to death by stoning for "exercising
unnatural behavior" by a court in Boosaaso.
We are aware that subsequent reports by Puntland media have indicated these
reports were false. We earnestly ask you, however, to move quickly to offer
official clarification on the following points:
a) whether two women were in fact sentenced to death for "unnatural
behavior," or whether they received another sentence;
b) whether the women are now in jail or free;
c) whether the sentence they received still stands, or whether it has
been commuted or they have received a pardon.
Should the reports be accurate, we urge you to pardon the women and to see
to their immediate release.
The reports which have been received by the international community
indicate that these women may have been persecuted for exercising their
freedom and expressing their solidarity as women. The sentences allegedly
imposed appear to profoundly unjust and disproportionate, and, if carried out,
would constitute torture under international law. Reports have also suggested
that a journalist who reported on the case may have been detained. If this is
so, we further urge his immediate release.
Islam is a religion of mercy, and a religion which believes in and promotes
the dignity of human beings and their rights. As you are aware, the State of
Puntland has affirmed this by stating, in Article 5.2 of its governing
Charter, its adherence to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. By
pardoning these women and preventing this sentence from being carried out, we
believe you will be faithful to the tenets of Islamic law as well as to the
principles of human rights. You will do honor to the reputation of Puntland as
a society of order and of law.
On February 20, 2001, the daily newspaper Qaran, published in Mogadishu,
Somalia, reported that two women in the port city of Boosaaso had been
sentenced to death "by a court which accused them of cultural
perversion." The article stated that the women "had been married [to
one another] for some time," and that one "had cohabited with the
other and bought her anything a bride would desire."
The Qaran report was apparently based on a report in the Boosaaso weekly
newspaper War-Gal, edited by Abdishakur Yusuf Ali.
The Qaran article stated that the death sentence would be carried out by
firing squad; some later reports indicated that it would be carried out by
stoning. The women were reportedly remanded to the Boosaaso jail to await
The report was confirmed by Agence-France Presse, based on information from
local contacts in Boosaaso. It was further circulated by the BBC, and by the
Integrated Regional Research Network (IRIN), a UN-sponsored network for the
circulation of news related to humanitarian concerns. All reported that the
women had been convicted of "exercising unnatural behavior." A
subsequent report by IRIN named the women as "Ishmahaan Awil" and
"Farhia (last name unknown)."
The exact character of the charges remains unclear in keeping with the
confused political situation in Somalia. That country has had no effective
central government since the 1991 overthrow of dictator Moxamed Siad Barre. In
1998, a group of central and northeastern provinces which had been relatively
insulated from years of civil unrest banded together to form the State of
Puntland, choosing a President and adopting a constitution. Puntland has not
declared its independence, envisioning instead a future as an autonomous unit
within a federalized Somalia. However, it refuses to recognize the recently
reformed central government in Mogadishu, and accuses authorities there of
trying to discredit and destabilize it.
The Charter of Puntland, adopted in 1998, emphasizes the Islamic character
of the State. Puntland has its own courts and judiciary; it appears that they
enforce a mixture of Islamic shari`ah law and remains of, or selections from,
Somalian criminal law. The penal code of the Somali Democratic Republic
punished consensual homosexual acts with prison terms. Art. 409
("Homosexuality") reads, "Whoever a) has carnal intercourse b)
with a person of the same sex, shall be punished, where the act does not
constitute a more serious crime, with imprisonment from 3 months to 3
years." Carnal intercourse is elsewhere defined (art. 398 para. 4) as
"penetration by the male sexual organ." However, art. 409 continues,
"Where a) the act committed b) is an act of lust different from carnal
intercourse, the punishment imposed shall be reduced by one-third"
opening the possibility of penalizing sexual acts between women.
Because of the severity of the reported sentence, it would appear that it
was handed down under a version of shari`ah law.
As reports of the sentence spread around the world, authorities in Puntland
began a campaign to deny it. The national newspaper Sahan accused
"Mogadishu tabloids" of spreading fabrications about the autonomous
State. Qaran reportedly printed a retraction. A journalist from Sahan,
Maxamed-deeq Cabdulqaadir, informed IGLHRC in a February 24 e-mail that the
Qaran article was based on "very biased and totally false
The Puntland police chief, Colonel Hirsi Said Farah, issued a statement
that "the police, the courts, and all concerned are surprised and
astonished by these reports." The statement accused Abdishakur Yusuf Ali,
editor of War-Gal, of making "false assertions and published
At the same time, other sources apparently stood by their earlier accounts.
Information received by IGLHRC from a source closely familiar with Puntland
indicate that contacts in the Puntland press and humanitarian community have
expressed nervousness about discussing the case, and suggested that political
pressure to deny it exists. It is also reported, although unconfirmed, that a
journalist in Boosaaso who publicized the case may have been detained as of
Sunday, February 26.
IGLHRC is concerned that the denials emanating from the Puntland press and
government may reflect its troubled relations with Mogadishu authorities,
rather than the truth. In addition, political forces in Puntland (as well as
in the Somali diaspora) have recently criticized both the BBC and IRIN for
reporting unfavorable to the Puntland government. The controversy surrounding
this story may be an extension of that antagonism.
For this reason, IGLHRC urges IMMEDIATE letters to Puntland authorities
asking for clarification, and calling for the immediate release of the two
women should their reported imprisonment be true.
The mission of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC)
is to protect and advance the human rights of all people and communities
subject to discrimination or abuse on the basis of sexual orientation, gender
identity, or HIV status.
1360 Mission Street, Suite 200
San Francisco, CA 94103
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