Christians Arrested in Mauritania Following Outrage Over Baptism Video

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According to a report by Morning Star News, authorities in Mauritania have detained 15 Christian leaders and 14 of their family members since late November, responding to calls for punishment by outraged Muslims over a video depicting a baptism ceremony. 

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The charges against the Christians remain unclear, as there is no specific law against evangelism in Mauritania. However, officials prohibit non-Muslims from proselytizing and ban public expressions of faith other than Islam.

Aid and advocacy group International Christian Concern (ICC) reported the arrests, revealing that at least three Christians were initially apprehended on or around Nov. 30 in Selibaby, more than 600 kilometers south of the capital city, Nouakchott. The arrests followed protests demanding the execution of Christians after the video circulated on social media, according to ICC and Christian leaders in the region.

The Mauritanian government’s delicate position is torn between human rights reforms and religious freedom commitments while asserting that the arrests aimed to protect citizens from radical Islamist elements. Officials believe the arrests were necessary to address the “Christian problem” in the country, as the video brought attention to the presence of Christianity in the area.

Harassment has extended beyond the arrested individuals to their families, as neighbors target them. A Christian leader in Mauritania revealed that protesting Muslims on Dec. 2 called for the burning of Christians’ homes, claiming that half the village population had converted to Christianity. The police initially arrested six leaders, later expanding their actions after finding names on a confiscated phone.

Mauritania’s legal landscape includes a 2018 Amendment to Penal Code Article 306, stating that explicit apostasy from Islam or actions against religious requirements can lead to imprisonment and, if unrepentant, death for blasphemy. The country’s legal system combines French civil law with sharia, and there are calls for increased application of the sharia-based criminal code.

Despite being a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which guarantees freedom of religion, Mauritania continues to ban any public expression of religion except for Islam. The government imposes restrictions on non-Muslim religious activities, requiring pre-approval for all group meetings, including non-Islamic religious gatherings in private homes.

While faith-based NGOs must refrain from proselytizing or promoting religions other than Islam, the government typically does not prevent non-Muslim religious groups from holding gatherings in private spaces. Possession of non-Islamic religious materials remains legal, though the government prohibits their printing and distribution.

Mauritania’s legal framework includes prohibitions on apostasy and blasphemy, with the criminal code mandating a death sentence for any Muslim convicted of these offenses. However, the government has never applied capital punishment for apostasy or blasphemy.

Mauritania holds the 20th position on the Open Doors 2023 World Watch List, which ranks countries based on the difficulty of practicing Christianity. Despite these challenges, some authorized churches can conduct services within their premises, with limitations on proselytization, while unrecognized Christian churches face restrictions on non-Islamic worship.

The recent arrests highlight the complex interplay between religious freedom, human rights, and the delicate balance the Mauritanian government faces in responding to the growing presence of Christianity in the country.

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