Human rights experts from the UN, the African Commission of Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR), and more than 20 NGOs have called upon the government of Mauritania to review and rescind Article 306 of the Criminal Code that carries the mandatory death sentence for people convicted of blasphemous speech or any acted deemed to be sacrilegious.
Prior to 27 April, the law permitted three days during which convicted defendants were allowed to repent. It appears that the revision to the Code was engendered by the high-profile case of a Mauritanian blogger, Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaïtir. Mkhaïtir, a member of the blacksmith caste, had posted a blog in “denouncing the use of religion to legitimize discriminatory practices” against his caste.
That was in 2014. Although his sentence was commuted to two years in prison, as of this article, he has not been released. His successful appeal, however, outraged the conservative Muslims in a country that seems bent on bringing its national laws into agreement with Sharia. Several months ago, prosecutors sought to reopen the case and to reinstate the death sentence.
The handling and repercussions of the Mkhaïtir case caused the Reporters Without Borders’ 2018 World Press Freedom Index to drop Mauritania 17 positions in its ranking.
Open Doors has ranked Mauritania 57th on its list of countries where the most persecution occurs. It helps to understand that the official name of the country is “The Islamic Republic of Mauritania,” similar in nature and name to The Islamic Republic of Iran. Of the total population of 4.2 million, only about 10,000 are Christians.
The Minister of Defense defended the need for Article 306, saying that “what we had before was in contradiction with official Sharia code, the official law. We want to be as close to the real Sharia law as possible, so we needed to eliminate that discrepancy between the two.”
Article 306 is subtly aimed at Muslim apostasy and blasphemy. Technically, they become apostate if they convert to Christianity. Conversion becomes the legal grounds for imposing the death penalty.
The decision to become a Christian in Mauritania is a difficult one. To leave Islam and to follow Christ will mean ostracism and persecution at the very least. Now, the law dictates that it could mean death. Because the convert had to have been a Muslim prior to conversion, he or she is guilty. One does not make this decision lightly.
Tom Nettleton of Voice of the Martyrs has asked Christians to “pray that God’s Spirit will move. The Bible talks about God directing the hearts of kings, God directing governments, and so let’s pray that there is a change of heart and that Mauritanians would be free to choose their own religious path.”
- Human Rights Watch, Mauritania: Mandatory Death Penalty for Blasphemy
- Cape Town News 24, AU rights group urges Mauritania ‘review’ blasphemy law
- Open Doors USA, Mauritania
- Patheos, Mauritania Passes Law Mandating Death Penalty for “Blasphemy”
- Al Jazeera, Mauritania strengthens blasphemy law after blogger case
- Scoop Independent News, UN Urges Mauritania to Repeal Anti-Blasphemy Law
- Mission Network News, Mauritania cracking down on apostasy with mandatory death sentence
- By Ferdinand Reus from Arnhem, Holland (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons