In a move to further stifle Somali citizens’ freedoms, the Muslim rebel group al-Shabab has ordered the Internet banned in Somalia. Telecommunications companies have been ordered to cease all Internet operations within 15 days. A reported reason for the Internet ban is the group wants to prevent spying. This may yet be the largest threat to Somali lives, as previous attempts to control them have failed.
But if al-Shabab intends to ban Internet use, they will struggle with maintaining a stranglehold, as they have a strong presence on social media, especially Facebook and Twitter. And the most connected areas throughout Somalia are controlled by the federal government, leaving the possibility of a complete Internet ban improbable, according to Danson Njue, an East African analyst for a telecommunications company. Al-Shabab lost control of the Somali capital Mogadishu in 2011, and Internet use is quite popular in this big city; the rebel group lost control of other key areas as well, but they still have southern and central areas under their domination.
Al-Shabab posted their demands on their al-Andalus Facebook page, stating that if companies do not cease Internet connection throughout Somalia, there will be retaliation: “Any firm or individual who does not comply will be seen to be working with the enemy and will be dealt with in accordance with Islamic law.” This is not the first time al-Shabab has threatened–or inflicted–violence in Somalia.
The militia, who openly admit ties to al Qaeda, was responsible for the September 2013 attack at the Westgate Premier Shopping Mall in Nairobi, which injured and killed many people. This tragedy brought attention to al-Shabab. In April 2013, the group set off a bomb outside of Somalia’s largest bank, injuring two people. The violence has been extensive, with roadside attacks and bombings, and kidnapping and assassinations of government officials. Humanitarian workers have also been attacked; for the past three years, the Muslim faction has booted out humanitarian groups attempting to enter al-Shabab controlled areas throughout Somalia, notably the United Nations, the Red Cross and Islamic Relief. The attempt to have Internet banned in Somalia is like a terrorist attack on Somali livelihood.
Al-Shabab has been fighting for control of Somalia for about seven years. The rebel group wants to institute strict sharia law throughout the country, but has been unsuccessful in their attempts to ban Western influence from invading Somali life, such as mobile phone ringtones, music, movies, soccer and smoking. According to a 2013 annual report by Amnesty International, al-Shabab has unlawfully tortured and killed civilians in public for not following sharia law, by stoning, flogging and amputating them. Strict codes of behavior must be followed by both men and women.
Sharia law means Islamic law, and is considered an extremely repressive law in the Western world though there have been attempts to bring in sharia law, however unsuccessfully. Human rights are virtually nonexistent, and punishment for minor crimes are severe (severing of the right hand in cases of theft, for example). Sharia law started in Saudi Arabia but has spread to other countries such as the UK, Canada and some African countries. One way to impose sharia law is al-Shabab’s plan to have Internet banned in Somalia.
By Juana Poareo