Statement in Support of Aminettou Mint El-Moctar

On December 31st, 2014 the African Assembly for the Defence of Human Rights (RADDHO) organized a press conference to review the situation of human rights in Mauritania, further to the arrest and detention of Biram Dah Abeid, President of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA) and eight other human rights defenders. The conference took place in the presence of two members of the WLUML network Fatou Sow (International Director) and Codou Bop (Board member). They participated at the conference to denounce the fatwa against Aminettou Mint El-Moctar, president of the Association of the Women heads of the family.  The following statment was delivered to the conference.

French version here

A death sentence was issued in June 2014, against Ms. Aminettou Mint El Moctar, president of the Association of Women-Headed Households (AFCF) in Nouakchott. This was not an act of the Mauritanian justice system, but a fatwa from Yadhih Ould Dahi, the leader of a radical Islamist movement, Ahbab Errassoul. This fatwa was relayed in many mosques in the country and in the media, which resulted in violent threats against Ms. Mint El Moctar. The judicial authorities refused to accept the complaint she tried to file against the religious leader.  The pressure on Ms. Mint El Moctar remains very strong.

Why so much animosity and even hatred? Aminettou Mint El Moctar had had the audacity, in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, to be associated with an advocacy group for Cheikh Ould Mohamed Mkheitir, who has been sentenced to death for his blogs which are alleged to be blasphemous of the Prophet and Islam. In effect, Mkheitir accused Mauritanian society of maintaining "an unjust social order inherited from the time [of the Prophet]" and "marginalization in the name of Islam," of castes such as blacksmiths, griots and slaves. Although slavery was formally abolished in 1980, the issue is far from resolved.

The fatwa calling for murder was launched by Yadhih Ould Dahi, saying: "This malevolent woman [Aminettou Mint El Moctar], who defends Mkheitir and says he is detained for his opinions and requests his release to return to his wife; she who criticizes the group of friends of the Prophet, like Boko Haram and Takfiri, when they are only asking for fairness for the Prophet and respect for his honor; she is damned by Allah, the angels and the people together. Today, with the blessing of Allah, I announce her apostasy for minimizing harm to the honor of the Prophet. She is an infidel whose blood and property may be lawfully sought. Whoever kills or blinds her will be rewarded by Allah. "

In addition to the violence proposed by Mr. Yadhih, the ability and freedom of a single individual or groups, whatever their status, to be make such statements, without the political and administrative authorities becoming concerned, is worrying. Instead the authorities are complicit through their silence.

The exercise of power by Yadhih Ould Dahi is based on the criminalization of blasphemy and apostasy in Mauritanian law. Blasphemy is considered as any speech leading to the contempt of religion and was part of  laws in many countries around the world. Although it has been gradually abolished, the question remains centered around the concept of "defamation of religions" a resolution on which passed narrowly, at the United Nations General Assembly of in 2010. For many Muslim countries, it is a way to fight against Islamophobia. Apostasy, with which Mkheitir is charged, is an article of the Mauritanian Penal Code (1983). Article 306 provides that: "Every Muslim guilty of the crime of apostasy, either by word or by action, apparent or obvious, will be invited to repent within three days. If he does not repent within this time, he will be sentenced to death as an apostate and his property will be forfeited to the Treasury. If he repents before the execution of the sentence, the prosecutors will convene the Supreme Court, for the purpose of his regaining all his rights, without prejudice to a misdemeanor under paragraph 1 of this Article. "

These are important ideological issues and political choices in contemporary society that challenge us on many levels. If we can claim religious freedom, it must be associated with freedom of expression. What Ms. Aminettou Mint El Moctar denounces is the manipulation of religion for political purposes, which results in abuses.

The international solidarity network, Women Living Under Muslim Laws, gives our full support to the struggle against religious manipulation, and requires political and administrative authorities to ensure Ms. Mint El Moctar’s physical and moral protection.  We also require the release of Mr. Mkheitir whose freedom of opinion is being sacrificed in the name of a moral state.

Fatou Sow, December 31st 2014

Translated from the French by Ayesha Imam