A court in Garowe, in northern Somalia, Saturday sentenced five male teenagers to death for the gang rape of a 16-year-old girl in Galkayo last month, officials said.
Mohamed Hared Farah, deputy attorney of Puntland’s High Court, said the young men, four of whom are 18 and the other 19, were convicted in the rape of the girl.
“After all the court proceedings, including the presentation of evidence, the court sentences these five young men to death,” Farah said.
Second case sparks outrage
Farah added that the rape trial occurred hours before the gang rape and murder of a 12-year-old girl in the same Galkayo town, in the central Somali region of Mudug.
On Monday, Aisha Ilyes Aden was abducted at a market in the town. Her body was found the next morning near her home. An autopsy revealed she had been gang raped and then strangled.
Aisha’s case sparked outrage, with demonstrations and protesters’ calls for authorities to use the country’s landmark 2016 Sexual Offenses Law, which criminalizes rape, sexual harassment and online sexual offenses.
Four men have been arrested in the death of Aisha.
Puntland has also sent hundreds of security forces to Galkayo, which is fighting an increase in crime, including rape cases.
Sexual Offenses Law
The 2016 law allowed for five men who had gang raped a teenage girl, and then posted a video of the attack on social media, to be sentenced in 2017 to lashes and up to 10 years in prison, according to the United Nations, a key backer of the legislation.
Farah said Saturday’s sentence was meant to be both a lesson and final warning for other potential rapists.
“The young men in this region have made a normal habit to gang rape girls, therefore, our today’s sentence will send them a signal that we have a zero tolerance for rape and that anyone who commits will face death,” Farah warned.
The ruling Saturday was not only a test for Puntland state’s new sexual violence law, The Sexual Offense Act, but also a powerful signal of support for the rule of law in general in Somalia, some rights activists say.
Somalia is a conservative society where rape is stigmatized and victims are traditionally forced to marry their assailants. Most rape cases go unreported and unpunished, according to Somali women rights activists.
Many rape survivors and their families are afraid to come forward to publicly confront perpetrators, because they fear being shunned by their community. In many cases, the rape victims are deemed unmarriable.
“Sexual violence is sadly not a shocking occurrence in Puntland. For years, it has been relatively commonplace,” said Hawa Aden Mohamed, founder of the Galkayo Education Center for Peace and Development, which promotes women’s rights.
Anti-rape campaigners in Somalia say the brutal nature of several videos of gang rape and murder, which have been shared on social media in the past two years, are turning the tide against the conservative stigmatization and the nature of hiding perpetrators.