GENEVA (7 June 2018) – A group of UN human rights experts* have urged Mauritanian authorities to reconsider the adoption of an amendment to the Penal Code which would mandate the death penalty for blasphemy and apostasy, a provision which would gravely violate international law.
Article 306 of the Penal Code, as revised, provides that any Muslim guilty of apostasy or blasphemy will be sentenced to death upon arrest without possibility of clemency based on repentance. The previous article imposed the death penalty for apostasy and blasphemy but required prison terms in cases of repentance. The revision was adopted by Parliament on 27 April 2018 and is pending promulgation.
“We are outraged that, while international law prohibits the criminalization of apostasy and blasphemy, Mauritanian authorities have decided to enshrine the death penalty for those who express their rights to freedom of expression, religion and belief,” the experts said.
“This revision will further muzzle the right to freedom of expression in Mauritania and set the stage for incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence against persons on the basis of religion or belief. There is an additional risk that article 306 will be applied in a discriminatory manner to different faiths. Moreover, the revised article advances a fundamentalist agenda which puts human rights gravely at risk and encourages extremists.
“For those States that haven’t abolished the death penalty, it can only be imposed for the most serious crimes involving intentional killing,” they said, adding that the mandatory death penalty constituted a direct violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and constituted an arbitrary deprivation of life.
The experts urged the Mauritanian authorities not to promulgate the revised article 306 of the Penal Code and instead to review it so as to bring it in line with international standards of human rights law.
*The UN experts: Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Ms. Agnès Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Ms. Karima Bennoune, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights.