The African Union’s human rights organization, wrapping up its meeting in Nouakchott this week, called on President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz to review Mauritania’s controversial “blasphemy” law.
“The African commission uses the occasion of its current session in Mauritania to urge the highest authorities to review this legislation,” said Soyata Maiga, head of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. “This review must be done in accordance with the guidelines and efforts of the African commission’s working group on the death penalty and extrajudicial killings in Africa.”
The meeting’s host country is under renewed scrutiny in the case of Mohammed Ould Mkhaitir, a Mauritanian blogger spared the death penalty last November in a case drawing widespread outrage at home and international attention beyond the North African nation’s borders.
The blogger was arrested in 2014 and charged with blasphemy because of an anti-slavery post in which he challenged the use of religion to support social injustice. Ultimately, he was sentenced to time served – but human rights groups say he still has never been released.
A panel of United Nations human rights experts also appealed to Mauritania this week, specifically on the blogger’s behalf.
“We have been repeatedly in contact with the Government of Mauritania and are calling on them to release him from arbitrary detention and ensure his safety,” the experts said. “It is a matter of grave concern that this young man has now been in detention for four years.”
The experts said their concern is heightened by the recent amendment of Mauritanian law that reportedly mandates the death penalty for Muslims considered guilty of apostasy.
“It is incompatible with international human rights law to criminalize apostasy,” the UN team said.