Somalia lacked an effective central government for decades, with extremist Islamist groups imposing harsh forms of Sharia that included death for apostasy, blasphemy and other expressions of the freedom of belief and expression. There has been progress under the internationally-backed government, but extreme Islamist rule and punishment persists in areas controlled by Al-Shabaab.

The penal code developed in 1963 applies to all regions of the country. It criminalizes blasphemy and defamation of Islam, which carry fines of up to two years in prison.

In August 2012, in an effort to established greater centralized authority, the new government of Somalia adopted a provisional constitution that claims to provide for some freedom of religion, as well as some freedom of expression. However, the provisional constitution enshrines Islam as the state religion and prohibits proselytism for any religion other than Islam.

Meanwhile, the violent Islamist group Al-Shabaab retained control of some rural areas of the south and central regions. Al-Shabaab harasses and kills persons suspected of converting from Islam, and maims and kills those who fail to adhere to its edicts.

While we recognise that in law as established by the internationally recognised government ‘blasphemy’ merits prison, not death, it should be stressed that in those parts of the country which remain controlled by al-Shabaab, any significant criticism of Islam or the terror group, including any acts or statement perceived as ‘blasphemous’, may result in an unlawful ‘execution’ at the hands of militants.

In 2015 a man was killed in public for “insulting the prophet Muhammed”, witnesses told the BBC. He was shot by a firing squad in the southern town of Jamame, Lower Juba region, following a Sharia trial conducted under the auspices of al-Shabaab.