Alert: CIVICUS urges respect for civil society freedoms in Mauritania

Global civil society alliance CIVICUS calls on the authorities in Mauritania to release blogger and freelance journalist Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed and overturn a death sentence against him upheld by the Appeals Court in Nouadhibou on 21 April 2016. In upholding the sentence, the Appeals Court referred the case to the Supreme Court, which has the authority to repeal the sentence or reduce it.

The sentencing of an individual to death for expressing views on a matter of public discourse violates the African Charter of Human and People’s Rights. CIVICUS calls upon Mauritanian authorities to respect civil society freedoms end the persecution of Mr Mohamed who has been in custody for over two years and should be released now.

Mr Mohamed was originally convicted of apostasy under a controversial provision (Article 306) of Mauritania’s penal code in December 2014. He has been in detention since January 2014 for publishing an article titled “religion, religiosity and craftsmen” which criticised Mauritania’s caste system and pointed out that followers of Islam subjectively interpreted religious tenets based on the circumstances.  Mr Mohamed has been a critic of conservative religious beliefs and actions of the Mauritanian authorities in the past. 

The case of Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed is one of several instances of judicial persecution, and intimidation of journalists and human rights defenders urging reform in Mauritania as raised by CIVICUS in its submission to the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review earlier this year. CIVICUS has also highlighted serious challenges faced by anti-slavery activists in Mauritania.

In January 2015, anti-slavery activists Brahim Bilal Ramdane, Djiby Sow and Biram Dah Abeid were sentenced to two years in prison for belonging to an unrecognised organisation and participating in an illegal assembly. The three were arrested in November 2014 for taking part in a peaceful protest against the practice of slavery and sensitising citizens on their rights to land.  Their sentences were upheld by the Aleg Appeals Court in August 2015.  Djiby Sow has been released on parole for medical reasons while the other two activists are serving their sentence.  The case is currently before the Supreme Court.

CIVICUS calls on Mauritania to respect human rights obligations of the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) by (i) protecting civil society freedoms, and (ii) immediately and unconditionally releasing Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed and other civil society activists.