Somalia: Executing rape victims

Recently a young female was executed for adultery in Kismayo, Somalia. Initially we were told that she was 23, and had gone to the Shabaab militia, who control that part of the country, to confess and to submit to the Shari’a penalty by way of repentance. This week, Amnesty International somehow found out that she was actually 13 years old, a rape victim who had gone to the militia with her father to report the rape and was instead charged with adultery, and actually resisted the execution, as one might expect.

There is a letter from one Andy Smith in Kingston, Surrey, complaining:

I have not seen any reports of Islamic authorities condemning those involved in this medieval piece of butchery. Why not? We cannot tolerate any religious belief, culture or mindset that thinks this was in any way acceptable or understandable behaviour.

Since when was it the duty of Muslim “authorities” to answer for each and every public act of any Muslims anywhere in the world? The responsibility lies with the leaders of the Shabaab, and whoever is supporting them (which might include the government of Eritrea, which is not led by Muslims), and them alone. There are a host of reasons why this incident, if the report is accurate, should not have happened.

First, the girl appeared not to have been married. The death penalty for adulterers, male or female, applies only to adulterers, i.e. people who are married (or have been married) who are convicted of having sex outside marriage, and not if they have been forced, i.e. raped. There is no reports of her having a husband, and the source for her age being 13 is given as her father; had she been married, which is possible (although she most probably was not), they would surely have sourced the story from her husband. If the husband had rejected her for being raped, AI would no doubt have mentioned it.

Second, if the only evidence the militia had for her supposed adultery was complaining of being raped, that simply does not count. Such evidence (see this fatwa) includes a confession or testimony from four adult, male witnesses that they saw penetration (and not merely the man on top of a woman and that they looked like they were having sex). Even in the Maliki school, which puts the burden of proof on the woman to explain an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, coming forward after a rape to report it is a valid explanation.

So why would the militia execute a young girl based on such flimsy “evidence”? Perhaps they were under the misapprehension that Islamic law does not recognise rape when the law-books and hadeeth collections clearly indicate that it does. Perhaps they assumed that, because she did not show obvious sign of injury, she was lying (and assumed that she was only lying about the intercourse being rape, not about it happening at all). Who knows? The report from AI leaves us all guessing about these details.

The problem is that AI have circulated dubious horror stories about such matters before. In one edition of their British members’ magazine in the early 1990s, they printed an extract from Jean Sasson’s book Princess, in which a 13-year-old girl, also unmarried, who had been raped by three of her brother’s drug-intoxicated friends, was executed (after giving birth to the child conceived during the rape) because her father, who had supposedly never been comfortable with daughters, requested it. Whether this incident happened or not, and any Muslim or anyone familiar with Arab or Muslim culture would suspect otherwise, it appeared in Princess before the assassination of King Faisal, in the early 1970s, something AI neglected to mention when printing the extract.

AI may not be deliberately lying, but I suspect that they are receptive to such horror stories and may be passing them on without doing much in the way of checking, and since Kismayo is a difficult and dangerous place to get to, verifying the stories is difficult. We should be clear that if this incident is as reported, however, then it is a senseless murder of an innocent young girl by ignorant thugs, and should be condemned unreservedly.

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