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Ten men arrested after birthday party sparks outcry for being Mauritania's 'first gay wedding'

Ten men wre arrested for what was supposedly a traditional gay marriage ceremony [Getty]

Date of publication: 31 January, 2020

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Ten men were arrested in Mauritania after a video of a birthday party was said to be the country's first gay marriage ceremony.
Authorities in Mauritania have arrested 10 men after a video appeared on social media of a gay couple appearing to take part in a traditional wedding ceremony, human rights groups said.

Police later determined the gathering was a birthday party but the men remain in custody with no trial date set yet.

Mauritania practices a strict version of Islamic law under which homosexuality is criminalised. If convicted, the men could face the death penalty though executions have not been carried out in more than a decade, according to Amnesty International.

"It is a serious attack on the individual and collective freedom of these young people who have the right to display their difference and intimate preferences," said Brahim Bilal, the president of a human rights organization in Mauritania.

Video of the festive ceremony prompted outcry to what was suspected of being the first gay marriage in Mauritania.

The Nouakchott public prosecutor's office then opened an investigation, and the police arrested the 10 young men.

The case marks a rare enforcement of Islamic law. In 2018 Human Rights Watch said there were no known cases of people being jailed or sentenced to death for homosexual acts in Mauritania.

Same-sex acts are illegal in more than 33 African countries and can lead to death sentences in parts of at least four, including Mauritania, Sudan, northern Nigeria and southern Somalia, according to Amnesty International.

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In July, a Mauritanian blogger incarcerated for five-years over blasphemy charges was released.

Cheik Ould Mohamed Ould Mkheitir had garnered international support during his years in prison since he was initially sentenced to death in 2014 - later commuted to a jail term - over a blog post that discussed slavery in the conservative Saharan nation.

Mkheitir was sentenced to death for blasphemy in December 2014 after he wrote a blog that challenged decisions taken by the Prophet Muhammed and his companions during holy wars in the seventh century.

Amnesty called on Mauritania's new president Mohamed Ould Cheikh El-Ghazouani to change the law.

The group has previously called for Mauritania's new president to take more action to protect human rights defenders and end slavery, which persists in Mauritania despite its official abolition in 1981.

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