By Adi Chowdhury
In the latest of vitriolic homophobia’s manifestations as hindrances in our quest for progress, a young Somalian woman has been sentenced to death for being homosexual.
The young Sahra (whose name has been altered due to safety reasons) had been a crusader for women’s rights and hence was no stranger to controversy. But things took a turn for the fatal as she was exposed as a lesbian and subjected to the vehement fury from acquaintances.
Al-Shahabab is an Islamic terror group that has amassed notoriety for their vitriol and violence taken against the gay community of Somalia. If not the al-Shahahbab, then other armed gangs are feared to take action against Sahra for her sexuality.
“I felt like I couldn’t breathe. One day they were looking for a guy for me to marry, the next they were looking to take my life,” Sahra recounts. “It was horrible.”
But everything changed late last year when an acquaintance publicly revealed that Sahra was gay. She started to receive threatening calls, but going to the police was difficult, as they are often openly hostile towards the LGBT community. In the wake of a draconian new anti-homosexuality law passed two years ago, many gay people fled to neighbouring Kenya for refuge after the act triggered a wave of house burnings and violence. That law was later annulled on a technicality.
Homosexuality is officially punishable with a three-year prison sentence, but in areas where the government does not hold sway, the killing of the few people suspected of being gay is a probability, with victims sometimes stoned to death.
Being gay in Somalia is “just not acceptable”, says Leyla Hussein, the London-based Somali founder of women’s rights group Daughters of Eve. “There are a lot of gay Somali women, but they will never come out. They don’t even come out to their own families.”
Sahra was flown to Mogadishu, with the assistance of Jason Jeremias, an activist and theatre producer who had struck up a friendship with Sahra during workshops in Uganda.