How families on both sides of the law face tough choices in Somalia
Sunday, October 28, 2012
By: Jamal Osman
Inmates at the main jail in Bossasso, Somalia, which houses 400 people. Photograph: Jehad Nga/Corbis
Relatives of murder victims must pardon the perpetrators, kill them or demand blood money – currently set at about $20,000
When Ali Faras's 21-year-old son was murdered, the local court gave him three options: to pardon the killer, demand blood money from the man's family or call for his execution. If he decided the latter, he would have to perform the killing himself.
The killer, Mohamed Sanbaare, had been his son's friend and business partner. Sanbaare owned a fishing boat and the pair worked together as human traffickers, ferrying immigrants across the sea to Yemen. One day, out at sea, Sanbaare shot and killed his friend. It was, he said, an accident.
Sanbaare was found guilty of murder at a court in Bossasso, in Somalia's semi-autonomous region of Puntland. Puntland more stable than the capital, Mogadishu, with functioning local authorities.
Bossasso has the largest prison in the region, with room for 400 criminals, and every week the port city's highest court deals with serious criminal cases including murder, terrorism and piracy. Murderers are judged according to Somalia's sharia law and the concept of Qisas, or "equal retaliation", which states that the victim's family must decide the fate of the murderer. They can choose to forgive, to ask for money as recompense or to demand the killer's death.
"Once the sentence is passed, if the victim's family choose to kill, then we take the defendant to the execution site, and the killing is carried out," said Sheikh Adam Ahmed, the highest judge in Bossasso.
The local authorities provide the family of the victim with an AK-47 and five bullets. The condemned man is blindfolded and tied to a small tree known as the tree of death. The person chosen to carry out the deed stands five metres away.
A gravedigger called Jerry – a nickname given to someone with a limp – explained it was not always easy for the executioner.
"Sometimes they [the family] miss because they're shaking so much," he said. The authorities will then provide an extra five bullets and allow the marksman to stand just two metres from his target, and have another go.
"The victim's families come here eager to finish the job," said Jerry. "But once they shoot the man dead, they always rush away. There's a sense of guilt."
Faras, a camel herder who once served in Somalia's army, decided to ask his son's killer for blood money instead. In Islamic law, blood money is very precise – one man's life is worth the value of 100 camels. The current going price for 100 camels is about $20,000 (£12,400).
Four years later, Sanbaare's mother, Asha Abdulakadir, is still trying to raise the money to save her son from execution. "$20,000! Where will I find $20,000 from?" she asked. "If I can't find the money, I will lose my son."
Sanbaare used to be the breadwinner in the family. Without his income, Abdulakadir is struggling to keep up with her rent and is facing eviction. Meanwhile Sanbaare is in jail and Faras awaits payment.
"I am the victim and they promised to pay the blood money," he said. "They say they will find it, and I told them: if you want to save your son, then pay."
Sanbaare is one of 67 death row prisoners at Bossasso jail. Over the past five years he has watched as, one by one, his 20 cellmates were taken away, never to return.
"When executions are about to happen here, you can always tell," he said. "When your time is up, it's up. We all have to die some day, whether you're executed or die of natural causes. I'm waiting for my time."
Sitting in the courtyard, with prison guards watching us from metres away, Sanbaare complains about prison life. He knows that if Qasim, the guard with the prison key, comes in after the morning prayer, the waiting will be over.
• For the full report on Somalia's sharia law, watch Channel 4 News at 7pm on Monday