The constitution defines the country as an Islamic republic and designates Islam as the sole religion of the citizenry and state. Only Muslims may be citizens, and apostasy is a crime punishable by death. On November 9, the Court of Appeals in Nouadhibou ordered the release of Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed Ould Mkheytir (MKheytir), a blogger who was previously sentenced to death in 2014 for apostasy after he allegedly posted statements on social media critical of the Prophet Mohammed. In March the Supreme Court ruled that the Court of Appeals improperly sentenced MKheytir to death for apostasy, since he had properly recanted his statements. The court ruled that he should have been sentenced to two years imprisonment for “unbelief.” Despite the court’s release order, MKheytir remained detained in an unknown location, and the government filed an appeal against the court’s verdict. On June 9, the National Assembly voted to impose prison sentences from one to five years for anyone criticizing the dominant Maliki school of Sunni jurisprudence. On June 9, the local press reported that one Mauritanian woman and three foreign citizens were arrested for apostasy but were later released. In May a Nouakchott court sentenced a woman to death for adultery, but she was immediately released to her family after family members promised that the woman would not violate adultery laws that are based on traditional sharia and colonial French legal principles. On April 11, the news website Sahara Media reported that the administration of the National Industrial and Mining Company (SNIM) authorized the conversion of the church of Zouerate into a mosque. On June 16, the government announced a ban on religious and opposition political groups that it said were using mosques to promote political agendas and propagate extremist views. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Traditional Education (MIATE) continued to collaborate with independent Islamic religious groups to combat extremism, radicalization, and terrorism through a series of workshops in all 15 provinces. The ministry also organized an International Islamic Conference on “Violence and Extremism from Sharia’s Perspective.”
On March 30, the Mauritanian Bar Association, in collaboration with the Muslim World Lawyers Organization, held a one-day seminar in Nouakchott on the role of Islamic law in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism. On September 1, during the annual Eid al-Adha observance, Imam Ahmedou Ould Lemrabott Ould Habibou Rahman, the Imam of the Grand Mosque of Nouakchott, repeated concerns about what he said was the spread and growing threat of Shia Islam in the country. The imam also stated government authorities should sever ties with Iran in order to stop the spread of Iranian Shia Islam.
U.S. embassy representatives, including the Ambassador and visiting senior U.S. government officials, discussed religious tolerance with senior government officials, including the president and prime minister. Embassy officials raised the court case of MKheytir and other apostasy and religious freedom-related issues with authorities on multiple occasions and urged authorities to ensure that MKheytir’s judicial proceedings were fair and transparent. The Ambassador and embassy officials hosted two iftars, at which they discussed religious tolerance with government officials and religious and civil society leaders.