Islam is constitutionally decreed the state religion in Mauritania; much of the Mauritanian population practises Sunni Islam. Proselytizing by non-Muslims and the printing and distribution of Bibles and other non-Islamic religious materials is explicitly prohibited in the country. Privacy is respected, however; hence the mere possession of Bibles and other Christian literature at home is by itself not illegal. Non-nationals who are mainly Roman Catholic and live in and around the capital, Nouakchott, are able to practise their religion. A small number of Jewish expatriates practise their religion, although they do not have a synagogue.

In 2009, AI reported that hundreds of migrants, believed to be heading to Europe, were arbitrarily arrested and detained in Mauritania. 'Many were detained in inhuman conditions and ill-treated before being expelled, frequently not to their countries of origin and without being able to challenge the expulsion decision,' the report said.

Mauritania has in the past been censured by the ACHPR for arbitrary expulsion of black Mauritanians on racial grounds. These expulsions, which took place in 1989 and 1990, saw some 75,000 people expelled. By July 2008, only 4,500 of the deportees had been repatriated to Mauritania through the technical and material assistance of the UNHCR and with the cooperation of the state, scholar Bronwen Manby reported in 2009. Since the 2008 coup, the repatriation programme has stalled.

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