This statement was originally delivered at the 38th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on June 27, 2018

Mauritania:  Group of 10 Civil Society Organizations Calls for Release of Detained Journalist , End to Pressure against Independent Media

On April 27, 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. 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, and 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 ICCPR.

Supporting organizations:


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