The ominous shadow of Islamist extremism appears to be looming larger in Africa.
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported recently that Islamist extremists have imposed Sharia law in a number of villages in Mali, a landlocked country in West Africa with a predominantly Muslim population.
The human rights watchdog group said the radicals have banned baptisms and Christian weddings, threatening dire punishment to those violate their edicts. These extremists have also executed public officials, it added.
The group said the human rights abuses are being carried out by several militant groups such as Al-Qaeda, Ansar Dine, the Macina Liberation Front and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa.
It said the Mali government has largely been rendered powerless to stop these Islamist militant groups from "imposing restrictions on village life" and from executing people.
"The human rights climate grew increasingly precarious over the past year, a result of execution-style killings and intimidation by Islamist armed groups, bloody intercommunal clashes, and surges in violent crime," said Corinne Dufka, HRW's associate in Africa director, in a statement. "The government's failure to assert control and curtail security force abuses has added to the deteriorating situation."
The international human rights group said human rights abuses in Mali "steadily increased" starting in mid-2014 after a French-led military intervention helped to push back the Islamist extremists who occupied northern Mali in 2013.
It said the abuses have worsened in the last two years and spread to the African nation's central region.
The HRW learned about the atrocities committed by the Islamist militants from the people who witnessed them.
"Villagers described how Islamist groups of up to 50 armed fighters, including teenage boys, occupied villages for hours and threatened death to anyone collaborating with French forces, the government, or U.N. peacekeepers," the group report states. "In several villages, the groups imposed their version of Sharia (Islamic law), threatening villagers not to celebrate marriages and baptisms."
One villager told HRW that "our traditional customs are no longer allowed because of the presence of jihadist fighters from our own villages," adding that "our way of celebrating is now haram [forbidden]."
The villagers also revealed that the militants pressured families to surrender their children to join their groups.
According to the recently released Open Doors USA 2017 World Watch List, Mali is ranked 32nd in the list of countries that persecute Christians. It jumped 12 spots higher since it previously ranked at No. 44 on the 2016 World Watch List.