MOGADISHU, Somalia — Four youths were publicly whipped in the Somali capital on Monday after an Islamist court convicted them of gang rape, in a demonstration of the U.N.-backed government's inability to administer justice in this chaotic nation.
Despite judge Abdul Haq's insistence that the punishment would deter other rapes, the lashing was administered through the clothes of the accused and did not break their skin. Two of the youths smiled and laughed as they were punished.
Most of the courts' judges have links to the Islamist insurgency fighting the government, and base their judgment on Shariah law.
They are one of the few functioning institutions left in a shattered country that has lacked a working government since 1991.
The courts formed the basis for a movement that took over the capital and much of the south in 2006 before being chased from power by Ethiopian troops supporting the virtually powerless central government. The Islamists immediately launched an Iraq-style insurgency, elements of which are still battling the government.
Few people trust the predatory police force, going instead to the courts, which pass out judgments about once a month and can dispatch armed men to enforce them if necessary.
Haq designated four men to deliver the punishment immediately in front of a crowd of around 100 onlookers.
"These boys deserve this punishment," said clan elder Suldan Ali. "This way other people will not do their evil deed."
Fifteen-year-old Abdulkhadir Mohamed said he admitted his guilt and welcomed the punishment.
He and a friend stared at the ground as the punishment was delivered; the other two youths laughed.
Last October the courts sentenced a 13-year-old rape victim to death by stoning in the southern city of Kismayo in front of 1,000 spectators.