Yahya Ekhou is a human rights activist and writer from Mauritania. He earned a master’s degree in NGO Management. He founded and is the President of the Network of Liberals in Mauritania. As well, he is the head of the Estidama Foundation for NGO Capacity Building in Mauritania. Some distinctions include winning the 2017 Arab Youth Excellence Award presented in Cairo, Egypt, by the League of Arab States and the Arab Youth Council. He frequents international conferences. His autobiography will be published this year under the title Free People Cannot Be Tamed.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What is the background narrative in freethought for you?
Yahya Ekhou: Free thought for me is to have the right to express my convictions freely and to correct the notion that atheism is a disease or mental deformity that must be cured.
What I believe is unbelief.
Atheism is an instinct.
Jacobsen: How did your scope of the world and critical thinking widen over time in earlier life?
Ekhou: I belong to a very religious family and have studied the Qur’an and Islamic law. The front of the mosque answered me, go pray and do not ask such questions again.
This answer was the beginning of the research journey, the more you delve into the research, new questions appear.
Do religions unite us or divide us?
All religions say that religion unites people.
But the truth is that it unites believers only.
As for the unbelievers, they are the misguided unbelievers, etc.
They must be cursed and hated because they are infidels.
Until I got to Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion
This book has been instrumental in answering many of my questions
The internet really helped me find information
Because there is a severe censorship of information and books in Mauritania.
Jacobsen: What happened to your nationality? Why? How common is this?
Ekhou: Mauritania has the toughest blasphemy law in the world.
Whereas Article 5 of the Mauritanian constitution states that “Islam is the religion of the state and the people,” which means non-Muslims have neither rights nor citizenship, as it is an Islamic republic like Iran and Afghanistan.
Also, Article 306 of the Mauritanian Penal Code states that “Whoever changes or changes his religion shall be killed and shall not be repented.”
Anyone who leaves Islam will move.
A religious fatwa was issued to kill me, and as a result, demonstrations took place in Mauritania calling for my killing, after I wrote an article on Facebook entitled “Why does God not protect the believers in Him?”
An international arrest warrant was issued against me to take me back to Mauritania.
In addition, my Mauritanian citizenship was revoked.
Revocation of citizenship is a type of repression and silencing of various voices demanding equal citizenship rights that are not linked to belief.
With all this, there is a major international media blackout on what is happening inside Mauritania, for several purely economic reasons.
He cares more about the power of the state than the person.
The type of nationality you hold will determine the degree of attention you will receive from the international media and international organizations.
The interest in Iran and Saudi Arabia can be summed up in one word, “oil.”
Jacobsen: What is the state of Mauritania for ex-Muslims now?
Ekhou: Ex-Muslims live in a very miserable situation, as there are many of them in prisons, and many have been executed.
In the shadow of international silence, because as you know, no one knows anything about Mauritania or cares about it because it is not the focus of the world’s attention economically, culturally or politically.
Jacobsen: As you became an atheist, what were some of the consequences in social and professional life? Did this impact life with family?
Ekhou: The social system in Mauritania is a tribal system, and I belong to one of the largest tribes, the “Tijkant” tribe, which leads the religious trend in Mauritania.
And for this reason, my family tried to kill me and disavowed me. It also tried to kill my sister because she supported me and she is now residing in Egypt.
Now I don’t have any contact with my family.
One of the harshest consequences is that the social institution made up of tribes and state institutions unites, so anyone who criticizes religion or embraces a different ideology or religion or calls for the secularization of the state to eliminate religious laws.
His rights are violated by force of law.
Jacobsen: For the founding of The Liberals Network Mauritania, what is the importance of providing a voice to different, more centrist views, in the midst of a highly conservative Islamic context?
Ekhou: The motive for which I founded this organization is my conviction that rights are not given but taken away.
If you don’t claim your rights, you won’t get them automatically.
Dictatorship societies do not change automatically to democratic societies, for example, Europe is experiencing today’s freedom and rights that thousands of writers, activists and intellectuals paid for with their lives.
I believe in the need to change the situation inside Mauritania for the better.
With the efforts of young people who have become aware that we are in an era that no longer accepts selectivity in giving rights.
Everyone deserves equal citizenship rights, no matter what they believe in. I want Mauritania to be secularized so that the rights are for all.
What I’m trying to do is that it’s not just about what happened to me, but about thousands of activists and young people inside Mauritanian prisons. I’m the only one who has the chance to be the voice of the oppressed inside Mauritania.
I will use my stay in Europe to highlight the situation of freedoms in Mauritania.
The Mauritanians tried to silence me with threats, and even force, only I was subjected to an attempted murder inside Germany.
Because it bothers them to tell the world what is happening inside Mauritania.
Jacobsen: How did you get to Germany?
Ekhou: After my family tried to kill me, I ran out of Mauritania.
It was a long road from Mauritania to Mali, Egypt, then Turkey, and then Germany.
Gaining my freedom wasn’t a path strewn with roses.
Jacobsen: How can individuals or organizations contact you?
Ekhou: I’m looking forward to have contact with any person or organization interested about my story or my country through my personal account on Twitter and Facebook “Yahya Ekhou” or the website of the Liberals Network in Mauritania.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Yahya.
Photo by Daniel Born on Unsplash