Advocacy statements

Persecution of human rights defenders in Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia and Nigeria

  • Date / 2020
  • Location / Mauritania
  • Relevant Institution / African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights

 Oral statement on Item 6: Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in Africa

67th session of African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

International Humanist and Ethical Union (Humanists International) No. 387

Thank you honourable chair.

Honourable Commissioners, Vice chair Rémy Ngoy Lumbu, State Party representatives, fellow members of civil society, and participants.

My name is Cheik Mkhaitir, a Mauritanian Human Rights Defender and writer. I speak to you on behalf of Humanists International, an NGO representing 14 Member Organisations and Associates across the Continent.

We thank the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders for his assiduous work. We are deeply concerned about the situation of Human Rights Defenders across the continent and want to raise four cases here.

The situation in my home country of Mauritania is one such case. In February this year, 14 human rights defenders were arbitrarily arrested after meeting in a guest house.[1] In April, human rights defender Mariem Cheikh was arrested after criticising the practice of slavery and continuing racial discrimination in Mauritania. She was charged with “racist comments through social media” by the West Nouakchott Public Prosecutor. Human rights defenders who denounce ongoing slavery and discriminatory practices continue to be subjected to intimidation and harassment in Mauritania, including when attending, and upon their return from, international events, including sessions at the African Commission for Human and People’s Rights.[2]

Another case of concern is in Morocco. In July this year a Morroccan court charged Moroccan investigative journalist and human rights defender, Omar Radi, with undermining state security by receiving foreign funding and collaborating with foreign intelligence. The National Brigade of Judicial Police has repeatedly detained and interrogated Radi on various allegations, including foreign interference, public intoxication, insult, and filming without permission. In March, a Casablanca court issued Radi a four-month suspended prison sentence and a fine of 500 Moroccan dirhams for allegedly insulting a judge, according to reports. In June, Amnesty International released a report alleging that the Moroccan hacked Radi’s phone between January 2019 and January 2020.[3]

A further case is that of a Tunisian citizen and human rights defender named Wajdi Mahawashi. After demanding via his facebook page that the authorities stop a Tunisian Imam who had published a video in which he incited the beheadings of anyone criticizing the Prophet, Mahawashi was arrested, and has now been sentenced to two years in prison.[4] The Imam concerned had been arrested and released without charge.

Finally, the situation of the Nigerian humanist Human Rights Defender, Mubarak Bala is of grave concern to us. The 14th November (last Saturday) marked Bala’s 200th day in detention without charge. This is  a clear violation of his fundamental human rights, enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the African Charter to which the Nigeria is party.[5] Following months of advocacy, Bala was finally granted access to his legal team in October, more than five months after his initial arrest, but he has yet to be brought before a court and charged with a crime.

We ask the Special rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders to follow-up on these cases, and to urge:



[2] https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/statement-report/upr-submission-mauritania-2020#:~:text=Mauritania%20does%20not%20have%20a,critics%20for%20non%2Dviolent%20speech

[3] https://cpj.org/2020/07/journalist-omar-radi-arrested-charged-in-morocco/, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/06/omar-radi-moroccan-journalist-refuses-to-be-silenced/

[4] http://kapitalis.com/tunisie/2020/11/13/condamne-a-2-ans-de-prison-wajdi-mahouechi-est-la-nouvelle-victime-de-linjustice-de-letat/

[5] https://humanists.international/2020/11/nigerian-humanist-mubarak-bala-held-without-charge-for-200-days/

Suggested academic reference

'Persecution of human rights defenders in Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia and Nigeria', Humanists International

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