MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) - Mogadishu's Islamic leaders gave seven men 40 lashes each for using or selling marijuana, meting out the punishment in public Wednesday in a dramatic example of the region's new fundamentalist rule.
It was the first public lashing since a militia-backed Islamic group took control of the capital, Mogadishu, in June. Officials said that the men were arrested two weeks ago, but did not say whether they were tried.
The seven were lashed at the Konis Stadium in Mogadishu in front of scores of people. The marijuana was burned before the crowd.
"This punishment is in accordance with the Islamic law. Thank God, we can implement Islamic law in parts of the country freely and we hope we shall be able to do so throughout the country," Sheik Farah Ali Hussein, an official of the Islamic group, told the crowd.
The imposition of strict religious rule has sparked fears of an emerging, Taliban-style regime. The United States accuses Somalia's Islamic leaders of harboring al-Qaida leaders responsible for deadly bombings at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
Somalia has not had a police force or judiciary for 16 years since the warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on each other, carving much of the country into armed camps ruled by violence and clan law.
The Islamic leaders stepped into the vacuum in Mogadishu and most of southern Somalia, projecting themselves as a source of stability.
Late Tuesday, Islamic militiamen raided a makeshift video hall in Mogadishu, beating up viewers watching an Indian film. Like the Taliban, members of the group appear to see any secular entertainment as un-Islamic.
Somalia has a weak transitional government set up two years ago with U.N.-backing but it has been unable to assert its authority beyond Baidoa, 150 miles northwest of Mogadishu, and could only watch helplessly as Islamic militants seized the capital in June.