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Today on the floor of the United Nations Human Rights Council, a group of ten NGOs jointly called on Mauritania to end the arbitrary detention of anti-slavery writer Mohamed M’kheitir and to repeal the revised article of its Penal Code mandating the death penalty for apostasy and blasphemy.

The UN Human Rights Council

The group includes the International Humanists and Ethical Union (IHEU), Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort (ECPM), Freedom Now, Minority Rights Group, PEN America, Raif Badawi Foundation, ACAT, Center for Inquiry and SOS-Esclaves.

On behalf of the group, IHEU Advocacy Director, Elizabeth O’Casey delivered a statement describing recent developments in Mauritania regarding anti-blasphemy laws and called for an urgent re-think.

In April this year, the National Assembly of Mauritania passed a law that would make the death penalty mandatory for anyone convicted of “blasphemous speech” and acts deemed “sacrilegious”. The law also provides for a sentence of up to two years in prison and a fine of up to 600,000 Ouguiyas (approximately EUR 13,800) for “offending public indecency and Islamic values” and for “breaching Allah’s prohibitions” or assisting in their breach.

In the statement, the NGOs pointed out that the mandatory death penalty constitutes a direct violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), of which Mauritania is a signatory. In its general comment number 34, the UN Human Rights Committee makes clear that “blasphemy laws, are incompatible with the Covenant,” unless they constitute incitement to discrimination, hostility, or violence.

Mohamed Cheikh Ould M’kheitir

As we have reported over the years, the writer Mohamed Cheikh Ould M’kheitir was convicted of apostasy after posting an article online denouncing the use of religion to legitimize discriminatory practices and caste-based slavery in Mauritania. He was sentenced to death in December 2014, before a court reduced his punishment to two years imprisonment in November 2017. Although his sentence has expired, the authorities continue to detain him. He was recently hospitalised for ill-health.

This NGO call at the UN comes following a statement by a group of UN experts calling for the release of M’kheitir as well as a statement urging Mauritania not to go ahead with the law mandating the death penalty for apostasy and blasphemy.

Of the case, O’Casey said: “We are seriously concerned about Mohamed’s welfare and safety, and deeply frustrated at the fact that he is still detained despite him having served his sentence.

Elizabeth O’Casey delivers statement to the UN Human Rights Council

“Mohamed is yet another example of  a writer/blogger seeking to defend human rights and highlight where religion is being used by those in power to excuse indefensible discrimination and persecution on the grounds or caste, race or ethnicity or belief.

“Laws outlawing apostasy and blasphemy go in diametric opposition to all international legal standards. As does the mandatory death penalty that the Mauritanian National Assembly has voted into power. It is particularly distressing that this law was passed by the National Assembly whilst the African Commission was holding it 62nd ordinary session in the country.”

The statement is in full below – in English and in Arabic:


 JOINT ORAL STATEMENT

UN Human Rights Council, 38th Session (18th June – 6th July 2018)

General Debate on Item 4:
Human Rights Situations that Require the Council’s Attention

 

I deliver this statement on behalf of ten NGOs.

On 27 April 2018, Mauritania’s National Assembly adopted an amendment to the Penal Code which makes the death penalty mandatory for anyone convicted of “blasphemous speech” and “sacrilegious acts.” The new law also provides for a sentence of up to two years in prison and a fine for “offending public indecency and Islamic values” and for “breaching Allah’s prohibitions” or assisting in their breach.

The mandatory death penalty constitutes a direct violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), of which Mauritania is a signatory, and an arbitrary deprivation of life.

As UN Experts have recently noted, this law will “further muzzle the right to freedom of expression in Mauritania and set the stage for incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence against persons on the basis of religion or belief.”

One prominent case of concern which appears to be related to the timing of the new law is that of anti-slavery writer and journalist Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkheitir.

Mkheitir was convicted of apostasy and sentenced to death in December 2014 before a court reduced his punishment to two years imprisonment in November 2017. Although his sentence has expired, the authorities continue to detain him. Throughout his stay in prison he has continued to receive death threats. [According to his lawyers] His health has badly deteriorated recently.

Those who speak out against slavery and discrimination in Mauritania risk reprisals, including arbitrary arrests, torture and other ill-treatment, bans on their activities or their organizations.

We call on Mauritania to end the arbitrary detention of Mkheitir and ensure his safety. We also urge Mauritania not to promulgate the revised article 306 of the Penal Code, and instead bring the law in line with Mauritania’s human rights obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

 

ACAT

Center for Inquiry

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort (ECPM)

Freedom Now

International Humanists and Ethical Union (IHEU)

Minority Rights Group

PEN America

Raif Badawi Foundation for Freedom

SOS-Esclaves

 

ARABIC VERSION

بيان شفوي

مجلس حقوق الإنسان التابع للأمم المتحدة ، الدورة الثامنة والثلاثون (18 يونيو – 6 يوليو 2018)

المناقشة العامة حول البند 4: حالات حقوق الإنسان التي تتطلب اهتمامًا من المجلس

في 27 أبريل 2018 ، تبنت الجمعية الوطنية الموريتانية تعديلاً على قانون العقوبات يجعل من عقوبة الإعدام إلزامية لأي شخص يدان بـ “خطاب التجديف” و “الأفعال التعسفية”. كما ينص القانون الجديد على عقوبة تصل إلى عامين سجنا وغرامة مالية لكل ما من شأنه: “ارتكاب الفحش العلني و الإساءة للقيم الإسلامية” و “انتهاك محظورات الله” أو المساعدة في انتهاكها..

عقوبة الإعدام الإلزامية هذه تشكل انتهاكا مباشرا للعهد الدولي الخاص بالحقوق المدنية والسياسية (ICCPR) ، الذي وقعت موريتانيا عليه ، كما أنه انتهاك تعسفي للحق في الحياة.

وكما أشار خبراء الأمم المتحدة مؤخراً ، فإن هذا القانون “سيزيد من تكميم الحق في حرية التعبير في موريتانيا ويمهد الطريق للتحريض على التمييز أو العداء أو العنف ضد الأشخاص على أساس الدين أو المعتقد”.

إحدى الحالات البارزة و المثيرة للقلق والتي يبدو أن لها صلة بتوقيت صدور هذا القانون الجديد هي قضية الكاتب والمدون المناهض للعبودية محمد الشيخ ولد مخيتير.

حيث أدين مخيتر بالردة وحكم عليه بالإعدام في ديسمبر 2014 قبل أن تخفض المحكمة عقوبته السجن لمدة عامين في نوفمبر / تشرين الثاني 2017. وعلى الرغم من انتهاء مدة العقوبة ، تستمر السلطات في احتجازه. و طوال فترة إقامته في السجن يستمر مخيتير في تتلقى تهديدات بالقتل. أما حالته الصحية فقد تدهورت بشكل كبير في الآونة الأخيرة.

يتعرض أولئك الذين يتكلمون ضد العبودية والتمييز في موريتانيا لخطر الانتقام ، بما في ذلك الاعتقالات التعسفية ، والتعذيب وغيره من ضروب سوء المعاملة ، وحظر أنشطتهم أو منظماتهم.

ندعو موريتانيا إلى وضع حد للاحتجاز التعسفي للسيد مخيرتير وضمان سلامته. كما نحث موريتانيا على عدم تعميم المادة 306 المنقحة من قانون العقوبات ، وبدلاً من ذلك ، جعل القانون الموريتاني يتماشى مع التزامات موريتانيا في مجال حقوق الإنسان بموجب العهد الدولي الخاص بالحقوق المدنية والسياسية.

 

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2 Responses to Release Blogger and Scrap Death Penalty law! NGOs urge Mauritania at United Nations

  1. Mauritania like other Muslim countries is going backward in time. In Bangladesh, vigilante gangs murder bloggers and writers. It wasn’t always like this. In the ’80s, when I was at university, every view was tolerated – Marxists, mullahs, pirs (Islamic holy men), atheists. But then we had a military government which balanced all pressure groups. Our democratic transition first brought in an Islam-friendly (but not Islamist) government. After 28 years, we have a nationalist government that criminalises criticism of its founder: in effect, we have two religions contending for supremacy.

  2. sealander says:

    Governments that use the death penalty are showing the public that killing people solves problems. It follows reasonably that since the power of government is believed to come from the people, that the people would be morally right in applying the same solutions to their own problems. One leads by example; thus, such governments are demonstrating that murder is right. But some individuals in positions of power characteristically prefer to solve many types of problems by killing people. Those who will do anything necessary in acquiring for themselves positions power tend sooner or later to do to others what others would prefer not be done to them. More than one solution to this matter is possible, but a very good one is to acquire or carefully develop an understanding of reasonable ways of solving problems by addressing the source, rather than by killing people. Some societies are doing this, or trying to, but it needs to spread. Governments using the death penalty to kill people who do things they don’t like is not an advanced way of dealing with issues, any more than someone going into a bar and shooting a lot of people just because he feels like it. In fact it is very much the same thing.

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