Interview: WLP Mauritania Human Rights Defender Discusses Death Fatwa

 

 

 

This June, WLP Partner and Mauritania human rights activist Aminetou Mint El Moctar faced serious threat to her personal safety, following a fatwa by an extremist group calling for her death. The Mauritania-based Ahbab Errassoul ("Friends of the Prophet") claimed to have issued the fatwa in response to Aminetou's calls for a fair trial for Cheikh Ould Mkheitir, a Mauritanian writer charged with apostasy. Following the fatwa, WLP interviewed Aminetou, who expressed grave concern for the lack of government action to ensure her security. An English and Arabic summary of the interview is below, in addition to the full interview in Arabic. 

After three weeks of travel and meetings with international supporters, Aminetou returned to Mauritania in July to continue her work for human rights in the region, despite the threat to her security. She is currently living in hiding and fears for children’s safety and her own. According to Aminetou, "mes enfants sont terrorisés" - "my children are terrified." The Mauritanian government has taken no action against Yehdih Ould Dahi, the self-proclaimed leader of the Islamist organization that issued the fatwa. Aminetou calls for solidarity from the international community, especially global women’s rights organizations, to put pressure on the Mauritanian government to take all necessary steps to ensure her safety and a fair and transparent trial for Cheikh Ould Mkheitir. WLP remains seriously concerned for Aminetou's safety and joins the United Nations in calling on the Mauritanian government to take necessary action to protect her. 

“Many women rights activists face threats every day because of the work they do. These women are targeted and they deserve proper protection not only from international organizations but also from their own government.” - Aminetou Mint El Moctar

In the weeks following the release of the fatwa against her life, Aminetou spoke with WLP about the events surrounding the fatwa. WLP also recorded an interview with Aminetou in July 2014. The following summary of Aminetou’s remarks during these conversations is a supplement to the information provided in the recorded interview.

 

                                                                   

 

What were the circumstances that preceded  the fatwa?

The fatwa was issued as a backlash against several incidents that occurred between me and the radical Islamic group Ahbab Errassoul [Friends of the Prophet]. At first, I conducted meetings with the group over several weeks to discuss women’s right to education, political participation, and taking part in society beyond their traditional roles as mothers. After three months of dialogues, the group decided to reject my ideas and considered them sinful. Later when I joined other women’s rights activists issuing a statement to condemn the rape and killing of women by Ahbab Errassoul during the border war with Mali, I was the only one that they criticized as a result. The third incident leading to the fatwa occurred after the writer Cheikh Ould Mkheitir published an article criticizing social discrimination in Islam. His words were perceived as apostasy by Islamic extremists and the writer was arrested. The Mauritanian president announced publicly that the young man deserved the harshest punishment. Ahbab Errassoul issued a fatwa calling for his death. These events angered local and international human rights organizations and the Mauritanian public, who responded by holding marches and protests against his unfair treatment. I was asked about my views on the case during an interview, and I stated my support for giving the writer a fair trial and allowing the court of law to decide. The reporter took my words and published them as “Aminetou Attacks the President and Calls for a Fair Trial.” Ahbab Errassoul issued the fatwa against me shortly after the publication of this article. 

 

 

What was your reaction when you learned of the fatwa?

I immediately went to the police station to file a report, but the police told me that the threats were not serious and that I should address the problem directly with the head of the group, Mr Yadhih Ould Dahi. I was shocked at this suggestion and so I turned to the state prosecutor who also refused to help me. Soon after, I departed for a work trip in Madrid. While I was away Ahbab Errassoul discovered a picture of me receiving a human rights award from the French president. They used this photograph to post large signs in the street with the title “Aminetou is united with the French to destroy Islam.” They also stated that whoever brought them my head would receive a blessing from Allah. 

This fatwa is issued against all women in Muslim countries—not only me. Women’s rights activists in Muslim countries are targeted and the international community must treat this matter seriously.  

 

How did local citizens react to the fatwa?

Fortunately, many people are aware of the injustice and have marched in the streets against the fatwa. Many other women’s and human rights organizations in Mauritania have spoken out against the treatment of this case by the government and have demanded return to justice and rule of law. 

 

What was the government's reaction?

As of now, the Mauritanian government has not issued any statements on this case. The president relies on the political ties of the radical group to win elections, and so is silent about this to avoid angering them. The state prosecutor that I had approached saw the seriousness of the situation and urged the police to protect me, but the police refused because they are not as powerful and don’t want to challenge the radical group that is backed by the president.

 

Do you plan to return to Mauritania soon?

I am not afraid to return to my country. I will continue defending myself and defending justice. I am not concerned about being attacked by the government. I am more concerned about my safety in the streets because Ahbab Errassoul continues to call on people to carry out the fatwa and murder me. I am also concerned with the ability of these radical groups to get away with breaking the law.

 

What do you plan to do when you return to your country, given this threat? 

After returning to Mauritania in July, I plan to launch a public campaign to expose the corruption and injustice in the Mauritanian government and judicial system. I will also continue to fight to demand a fair trial for Cheikh Ould Mkheitir. Regarding my security, I plan to conduct interviews with local television channels in Mauritania to send a message to Mauritanian people about my good intentions and to warn them about the false accusations against me by Ahbab Errasoul. 

 

How can others  support you?

I want people to pressure the Mauritanian government to apply the law with justice instead of playing favors and implementing their own beliefs. Many Mauritanian embassies already received letters and phone calls condemning the situation and demanding action. I ask all women rights organizations across the globe to show solidarity to put pressure on the Mauritanian government to take all the necessary steps to ensure my safety, as well as a fair and transparent trial for Cheikh Ould Mkheitir.

WLP, women’s rights organizations, and human rights activists can call on their networks in the Middle East/North Africa region to raise awareness about this case and also Salwa’s case [the women’s rights activist who was assassinated in Libya] and many other women’s rights activists who face threats every day because of the work they do. These women are targeted and they deserve proper protection not only from international organizations but also from their own governments. 

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