GENEVA (Reuters) - The leader of a Mauritanian group has issued a threat on his Facebook page to "tear out the eyes" of a rights activist for demanding a fair trial for a man charged with turning his back on Islam, a U.N. official said.
The United Nations on Friday urged the Mauritanian government to protect human rights activist Aminetou Mint El-Moctar, who is well-known in the Islamic republic for campaigning for women's rights and against human trafficking.
The threat against El-Moctar was made in a posting by the leader of a little-known Mauritanian group called Friends of the Prophet and has been repeated on other social media. The group called the threats a "fatwa", or religious edict.
Lawyers have been unwilling to defend the man charged with apostasy, making it impossible for him to get a fair trial, U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said.
"The horrendous threats against Ms. Mint El-Moctar, simply for pointing this out, starkly underline the importance of her public call that a fair trial must be ensured and illustrate how difficult that will be," he told a regular U.N. briefing.
"The threats are based on a 'fatwa' issued by the leader of the movement known as Friends of the Prophet and declare that 'whoever kills her or tears out her eyes will be rewarded by God'," Colville said.
El-Moctar has asked for government protection but it was not granted, he said. Her supporters staged a rally in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott on Sunday on her behalf.
Attempts to contact El-Moctar have been unsuccessful and there has been no comment from the government or from Friends of the Prophet, a group not publicly known before the Facebook post around two weeks ago.
Mauritania, a country of 3.2 million people straddling the Sahel region, is one of the West's key regional allies against al Qaeda. President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who came to power in an army coup in 2008, will stand in an election on June 21.
(Additional reporting by Kissima Diagana in Nouakchott; Editing by James Macharia)