Militant Islamists in the north of Mali gave three unmarried couples 100 lashes of the whip each on Thursday in the town of Timbuktu, witnesses told AFP.
“Last week, the Islamist police in Timbuktu arrested three unmarried couples,” one resident said.
“And today, each of the six received 100 lashes of the whip in a public square in Timbuktu,” he added.
“The three unmarried couples were whipped in the small market in Timbuktu, in the town centre,” said a former civil servant who witnessed the punishment.
He said around a hundred people had turned out to watch the punishment, which was carried out under the Islamists’ interpretation of Islamic sharia law.
The armed Islamists now in control of the town, which lies in the northwest of the country, have in the last two days also started raiding homes to seize satellite dishes, which allow people to watch foreign television channels.
One local journalist said there were at least 11 dishes at the Islamists’ offices, with six alone seized on Thursday.
“The Islamists say that foreign television ‘is Satan’,” he added.
Timbuktu is controlled by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Ansar Dine. They are among a number of groups who took advantage of the confusion following a military in Bamako earlier this year to seize Mali’s entire north.
Their interpretation of sharia law has already involved arresting unveiled women, stoning an unmarried couple to death, publicly flogging smokers and amputating the limbs of suspected thieves, according to residents and rights groups.
Last month, the Islamists took a bulldozer to a monument to Mali’s independence in Timbuktu.
And they have already destroyed the tombs of ancient Muslim saints and the “sacred door” to a 15th-century mosque, which they denounced as idolatrous.