At UN, Cheick Mkhaitir condemns role of blasphemy and apostasy laws in perpetuating slavery in Mauritania

  • post Type / Advocacy News
  • Date / 18 September 2023

In a statement made on behalf of Humanists International at the 54th session of the UN Human Rights Council today, human rights defender Cheick Mkhaitir has highlighted how repressive religious laws, such as those criminalizing “apostasy” and “blasphemy”, are a significant hindrance to dismantling slavery in Mauritania and called for their abolition.

The statement was made as part of an Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, Tomoya Obokata, who had made a visit to Mauritania to report on the situation there.

Mkhaitir, a human rights defender and anti-slavery activist originally from Mauritania, was himself imprisoned in Mauritania for the crime of apostasy, after he published an article criticizing the use of religion to legitimize the caste system and slavery.

Cheick Mkhaitir delivers his statement to the UN Human Rights Council, by video

Mkhaitir’s statement, delivered in Arabic, supported one of the findings of the Special Rapporteur’s Report; that is, religion continues to be instrumentalized to uphold slavery in Mauritania.  Mkhaitir then pointed out that blasphemy and apostasy laws contribute to this continuing to happen.

These laws, his statement said, “allow a system which protects the misuse of religion over the dignity of the individual, and which censors criticism of practices justified on religious grounds.” The statement also pointed out how such laws are “weaponized to silence and criminalize human rights defenders.”

The statement concluded by underscoring that the culture which supports slavery can only be changed when those who denounce slavery practices, like Mkhaitir himself, are free to do so, without the threat of arbitrary arrest and detention on charges of blasphemy and apostasy. Accordingly, the statement called for the repeal of blasphemy and apostasy laws as an essential step in the eradication of slavery practices in Mauritania.

Cheick Mkhaitir was sentenced to death for insulting the Prophet under Article 306 of the Mauritanian Penal Code in 2014, based on a post he had written which critiqued the use of certain religious texts to justify slavery and slave-like practices in Mauritania. He was released in 2019, after calls from several UN Special Rapporteurs and numerous NGOs, including Humanists International. Since his release, he has relocated from Mauritania, but continues to be a vocal critic of human rights violations and failings by the Mauritanian government. In 2021, Mkhaitir delivered another statement on behalf of Humanists International, in which he denounced continuing rights violations, including the practice of slavery and the persecution of anti-slavery activists, in Mauritania.

Featured photo by aboodi vesakaran on Pexels.

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