Somalia's Islamist insurgents on Thursday banned video games, one of the last forms of entertainment left for local youth, arguing they were destroying the country's social fabric.
The Hezb al-Islam group, currently engaged in a deadly insurgency against the internationally-backed federal government, made the announcement in a statement circulated in the areas it controls.
"Starting two days after this statement’s date of issue, all video game playing centers in the areas under Hezb al-Islam control should be closed and playing video games will be prohibited," it said.
"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 punished and equipment will be confiscated," it said.
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 centers like cybercafes where PlayStations were wired up and a 30-minute game cost 5,000 Somali shillings (around 15 U.S. cents).
"Hezb al-Islam officials ordered us to close our video game centers so 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 ouskirts 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," he told AFP.
The disappointment was deep among teenage boys in the area, where movies and sports are also banned.
"We used to watch movies. They were banned. Now the PlayStations we had fun with are also banned. This country is not for young people like me," said Abdirahman Hirsi, a 19-year-old from Lafole town.
"They have basically banned everything that is fun, so we feel increasingly bored," said another boy.
Abdi Moge, an older resident in the village, argued that there were few alternatives to occupy young people other than joining an armed group.
"Who knows what else the children are going to do now. It’s not as if there was proper education for them. The more they are prevented from playing, the more likely they are to join the fighting," he said.
Hezb al-Islam and their insurgency comrades from the Al Qaeda-inspired Shebab group are implementing a very strict form of Sharia (Islamic law) in the areas they control.
The Hezb al-Islam statement did not make clear what forms of punishment would be reserved for diehard gamers caught flouting the ban.
However, 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.
Satellite television is also banned in many areas and there are no cinemas left in central and southern Somalia, which are under Islamist control.