U.N. rights body gives posts to "unfree" countries

GENEVA Tue Dec 11, 2012 1:41am IST

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GENEVA (Reuters) - Mauritania and Maldives, which both permit citizens who renounce Islam to be sentenced to death, were on Monday elected as vice-presidents of the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2013.

Poland was chosen to chair the council next year with Ecuador and Switzerland named as the other vice-presidents of 47 member body. Mauritania and Maldives were elected as representatives of their regional council groupings.

Earlier on Monday, the rights records of Mauritania and Maldives, where an elected president and former political prisoner was ousted early this year in what he says was a hard-line coup, came under fire from a global free-thought body.

In a report detailing persecution and discrimination faced by atheists and humanists around the world, International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), said both impose Islam as the sole religion of the state.

Mauritania, the report said, outlaws apostasy, or the renunciation of the official religion for another or for a philosophy that does not recognise the existence of a deity.

Anyone found guilty of the offence is given the opportunity to repent within three days, according to the report. If this is not done, the offender is sentenced to death and his property is confiscated by the state.

The report, which was welcomed by the U.N. special investigator on freedom of religion and belief Heiner Bielefeldt, says in Maldives "the constitution and other laws do not permit freedom of religion or belief".

The report recorded two cases in 2010 in which Maldivians who declared publicly they could not believe in Islam or any other religion were told they would face death if they did not renounce their views.

One subsequently declared after special education he accepted Islam and the other committed suicide after writing a note saying he had been foolish to reveal his stance on religion to workmates, the report said.

The report said atheists and other religious skeptics suffer persecution or discrimination in many parts of the world. They can be executed if their beliefs become known in Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan, as well as Mauritania and Maldives.

(Reported by Robert Evans; Editing by Sophie Hares)

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