In response to today’s Appeal Court ruling in Mauritania releasing a blogger who had been sentenced to death for writing a ‘blasphemous’ post on Facebook, Alioune Tine, Amnesty International’s West and Central Africa Director said:
“The release of Mohamed Mkhaïtir, who has been jailed for nearly four years simply for peacefully expressing his opinions on Facebook, is a huge relief. This really is a day of triumph for him and his family, as well as all those who campaigned on his behalf since 2014.”
“Now that Mkhaitir is released, Mauritanian authorities must ensure that he lives without threat of physical attacks so that he can regain his dignity”.
“This ruling provides a golden opportunity for the Mauritanian authorities to change tack on this sensitive issue and halt their brutal crackdown on human rights activists. The authorities must now release Moussa Biram and Abdallahi Matallah the two anti-slavery activists currently jailed in a remote prison where they have spent nearly 500 days .’’
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Yesterday, the case of Mohamed Mkhaïtir, who was sentenced to death in December 2014 for a “blasphemous” post he made on Facebook, was heard for a second time by an appeal court in the north-western town of Nouadhibou. The verdict came out today with the appeal court quashing the death sentence and sentencing him for two years and a fine of 145 Euro. He has already spent nearly four years in jail.
In December 2013, Mohamed Mkhaïtir published a Facebook blog, entitled “Religion, Religiosity and Blacksmiths”, condemning the use of religion to justify discriminatory practices against members of the blacksmith cast, with which he identifies. Following the publication of his post, he received threatening phone calls accusing him of blasphemy. The post was also republished by several websites before it was removed.
He wrote a second blog explaining that his article aimed at denouncing those who use religion to belittle members of lower casts. Thousands of protestors took to the streets in several towns, including Nouadhibou and the capital Nouakchott, demanding that Mohamed Mkhaïtir be sentenced to death. Even when he was in prison he continued to receive death threats. His best friend also received death threat. His father was sacked from his job and forced to leave the country.
He was arrested on 5 January 2014 and charged with apostasy. During the trial hearing, Mohamed Mkhaïtir publicly repented, saying it was not his intention to speak lightly of the Prophet Mohammed in his writings. During the first six months of his detention, he was held in solitary confinement in a cell without toilets or a shower.
It is the first time the death sentence has been imposed for apostasy in Mauritania since the country gained independence in 1960. Amnesty International designated Mohamed Mkhaïtir a prisoner of conscience, jailed solely for the peaceful expression of his right to freedom of expression.