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Young Somali activist sentenced to death for being a lesbian

How a young Somali activist for women’s rights fled her homeland after she was outed as gay

When the boy came into the room, his eyes brimmed with tears. The news he brought was devastating. “They are talking about killing you,” he told his older cousin.

Using a phone smuggled into her room, Sahra (whose name has been changed here over concerns for her safety) sent a despairing plea for help to friends on the outside. Although she didn’t know it then, her killing was thought to have been scheduled to take place after Friday prayers two days later, and time was running out.

Sahra, a 22-year-old Somali woman, remembers swaying with shock as she received the news. “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,” she recalls. “It was horrible.”

In the eyes of her extended family, Sahra had brought shame on them all. From her family’s self-imposed exile in Uganda, she had long courted controversy as an outspoken advocate for women’s rights. But her personal safety took a turn for the worse when she was outed as a lesbian, setting in motion events that caused her to move to Mogadishu in Somalia, leaving her open to the wrath of her relatives.

Thousands of homosexual men and women in Somalia keep their sexual orientation a closely guarded secret in the knowledge that bringing it out into the open would attract potential retribution from al-Shabaab, the Islamist terror group, or armed gangs.

At the age of 12, Sahra was already campaigning for Somali women’s rights through poetry, attacking the practice of female genital mutilation. She quickly became a target, and one day was abducted close to her home and taken to a house where she was beaten. She still bears the scars. After her release, her parents whisked Sahra and her brother off to Kampala in Uganda, where they were to spend the next decade. She continued to campaign against taboo issues such as FGM through rap music. Her dream was to become a hip-hop artist.

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