By Bakari Gueye
Mauritanian ulemas have appealed to Pope Benedict XVI to help free Mauritanian parents imprisoned in Spain for their daughter’s underage marriage.
“It’s time this matter was sorted out. The government is not taking the case seriously, otherwise it would have sorted it out by now,” said Sidna, a friend of the family.
During the summer of 2007, Mohamed Ould Abdellahi and his wife left Spain to visit their native Mauritanian region of Assaba. While on the family holiday in Karwa, they arranged for their 14-year-old daughter to marry her 40-year-old cousin.
Cousins often marry in Mauritania. But Selamha’s Bouna’s parents were subject to Spanish law when the teenager filed her compliant. And Moukhtar Salem was not just a cousin,. He was 26 years her senior.
A Cadiz court in 2009 handed down the sentences: three years for her father, five for her mother and 18 for her cousin-turned spouse. This spring, the Spanish Supreme Court upheld the convictions and penalties.
On August 20th, the Club for Islamic Thought and Dialogue between Civilisations sent a letter to Pope Benedict XVI asking him “to intercede on behalf of the Mauritanian family imprisoned in Spain”.
“We are counting on your noble sense of humanism to help free this family,” wrote Hamden Ould Tah, the group’s president. According to Ould Tah “the resolution of this problem will help to bring Christians and Muslims closer together and contribute to interfaith dialogue”.
The Bishop of Nouakchott received the letter and promised “to forward it to Pope Benedict XVI as soon as possible”. The case has stirred vehement reactions.
“We agree that Spanish laws must be obeyed, but the Spanish courts also need to take Mauritanian culture and customs into account, so that the judgments delivered in this case will be fairer,” Bah, a young teacher, said.
“It’s not acceptable to send people to jail when all they have done is practise their religion, and yet people say Europe is the home of human rights,” Mariem said.
“These people are in prison simply because they followed tradition in arranging the marriage,” Aboubekrine said.
In February, the Mauritanian government passed a bill on the extradition of prisoners between Mauritania and Spain. Some have said the bill was passed to expedite the extradition process.
The girl is now being cared for by a Spanish foster family.