Mogadishu, 5 February 2010 (Somalilandpress) – Somalia’s Hezb al-Islam insurgent group on Thursday slapped a ban on video games in areas under its control.

The Islamist organisation argued in a statement that video games, popular with Somali youth and often played in small public game centres, were destroying the country’s social fabric.

“Starting two days after this statement’s date of issue, all video-game playing centres in the areas under Hezb al-Islam control should be closed and playing video games will be prohibited,” it said.

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“Video games are designed in such a way that they destroy our social traditions and for that reason, anybody found ignoring this order will be punishment and equipment will be confiscated,” the statement added.

It was signed by Sheikh Mohamed Omar, head of propaganda for Hezb al-Islam, an insurgent group headed by influential cleric Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys and which controls densely populated areas in and around Mogadishu.

Video games became particularly popular in areas on the outskirts of Mogadishu housing tens of thousands of families who fled the fighting in the capital since watching films on DVDs was also banned.

Children and teenagers would gather after school in small centres like cybercafés where PlayStations were wired up and a 30-minute game cost 5 000 Somali shillings (about 15 US cents).

“Hezb al-Islam officials ordered us to close our video-game centres so we today we’re closed, we don’t have a choice,” said Ali Hidig, a game centre owner in Elashabiyaha, a village hosting refugees on the outskirts of Mogadishu.

“Young boys used to like coming here for entertainment after school but it looks like this is now a thing of the past,” said.

The disappointment was deep among teenage boys in the area, where movies and sports are also banned.

“They have basically banned everything that is fun, so we feel increasingly bored,” said one of them on condition of anonymity.

Hezb al-Islam and their insurgency comrades from the al-Qaeda-inspired al-Shabaab are implementing a very strict form of Sharia law in the areas they control.

In recent months across Somalia, people found dancing to traditional songs have been flogged, men guilty of trimming their beards arrested and youth playing football in shorts reprimanded by religious police units.

Source: AFP