FCO Human Rights Report 2019
No specific reference to FoRB.
APPG Commentary on the current state of Freedom of Religion or Belief 2019
As a result of years of war in Somalia, there are currently no reliable figures for the country’s population or minority groups. Even so, it has been reported that up to 99% of the population are Sunni Muslims. Those of local religious beliefs and traditions, Islamic groups such as Sufis, and the Ashraf and Shekhal groups are also known to reside in the country. It has been estimated that ‘’hundreds’’ of Christians remain in Somalia.
The country’s provisional constitution, adopted in August 2012, undermines the international right to freedom of religion or belief in several ways. Article 2 forbids the propagation of any religion other than Islam, as well as categorically declaring the supremacy of Sharia. The judicial system also relies on Islamic, traditional and customary law. Non-Muslims are therefore at risk of being criminalised for failing to adhere to Islamic law and tradition. ‘Apostasy’ is also prohibited in the constitution and, as a result, religious minorities live in a constantly hostile environment with very high levels of violence.
Beyond the state, both society at large and terrorist organisations are the biggest threat to religious minority communities. Large parts of rural Somalia remain in the hands of the radical Islamic group, al-Shabaab. Al-Shabaab, which endorses the Saudi-inspired Wahhabi version of Islam, has played a key role in radicalising Somali society. Human rights violations such as the death of women by stoning, and the amputation of the hands of thieves have taken place in areas under the groups’ pseudo-jurisdiction.
Al-Shabaab has also claimed responsibility for persistent violent attacks which have taken place throughout the reporting period. The group want to topple the Somali government and impose a strict version of Islamic law. Somalia’s capital city, Mogadishu, has experienced a high concentration of violence during late 2018 and throughout 2019. The group is at its core, a clan-based Islamic militant group. Without ignoring political factors, it is religious motivation that forms the basis of the groups’ violence.
Al-Shabaab continues to identify the Sufi community as non-believers and, therefore, legitimate targets. The Sufi community, once relatively large, has dwindled since the civil war in the 1990s, although there has been evidence that the community has increased somewhat in recent years. In November 2018, two Al-Shabaab suicide bombers detonated explosives in front of a Sufi shrine in Galkayo, killing a prominent Somali Sufi imam and 17 worshippers. The imam had been criticised after publishing videos showing him and his followers chanting religious poems with music. The organisation is also active along the Somalia-Kenya border, where a more visible Christian community resides. In August 2019 an al-Shabaab attack against Christian workers at a building site in Mandera County on the Somalia-Kenyan border was fortunately foiled thanks to local Muslims who evacuated the Christian workers to safety.
Likewise, the Ashraf community and Shekhal community often experience discrimination based on their differing religious practices. In August 2019, the defence lawyers of a long-standing Ashraf Somali asylum seeker argued that, if deported from Britain, he would face significant violence upon his repatriation.
The Somali system enables a type of vigilante justice against Christians. The Christian community in Somalia experiences persecution from families, wider society and terrorist organisations, and converts face the threat of on-the-spot execution. As a result, the existing ‘’hundreds’’ of Somali Christians are forced to worship in small secretive groups in fear of such an attack from extremists. Most notably, Al-Shabaab participates in a consistent propagation of anti-Christian ideology. The group labels all foreign forces in Somalia as “Christian forces that have come to Somalia to spoil Islam’’, drawing parallels between Christianity and foreign forces based in the country.
In July 2017, a Catholic church, which was officially re-opened after three decades, was closed again after a week due to public pressure in the government influenced area of Hargeisa. Moreover, in February 2018, Fr. Steffano Tollu, Military Chaplain of the Italian contingent of the European Union training mission in Somalia, relayed information from Mogadishu which suggested that Somali Christians had experienced hostility from their own grandchildren, with some being murdered by their own family members. Indeed the Somali generation born in the 1990s have been heavily influenced by Somalia’s move towards more radical Islam since the fall of the government system in 1991.
In the UK Parliament, 2020
No questions asked.
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