Mauritanian blogger Mohamed Mkhaïtir tells the story of his first days in prison
Mauritanian blogger Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaïtir who was arrested on 2 January 2014 for publishing a blog post on slavery and discrimination, was released on 29 July 2019 after almost five years in detention. Charged with apostasy and insulting the Prophet Muhammad, Mkhaïtir was sentenced to death on 24 December 2014. On 9 November 2017, an appeal Court decision commuted his death sentence to two years’ imprisonment, which he had already served, plus a fine. However, the authorities kept him in detention and he was not released until July this year. He is now in Europe, from where he wrote this blog to describe his conditions of detention and thank Amnesty International which led the campaign for his release.
It is unusual, especially in Africa and the Arab world, for people to be arrested and imprisoned for their opinions. But that’s what happened to me on 2 January 2014, in my own country, Mauritania. I had simply published a blog post on the slavery and discrimination suffered by the blacksmith caste, to which I belong.
I was then arrested and detained in isolation where my only cellmates were fleas and cockroaches. For the first days of my detention, I would go to sleep to the sound of voices from inside the prison saying they wanted me dead; in the morning, I would be woken up by shouts from outside the prison calling for me to be killed.
Day after day, any hope of another life slipped away. No one around wanted me to live. Nonetheless, I tried to convince myself that I lived in a State governed by the rule of law and that the main role of lawyers was to defend the right of all detainees to a fair trial, leading to their release.
Yet, I was shocked to discover that many involved in the justice system were in favour of my death! I resigned myself to the fact that there was no hope…
Then, on 25 July 2015, as I was curled up in my cell, in isolation, I heard the sound of the door to the corridor opening and the clinking of keys as big and heavy as the boots of the guard turning them.
The door opened. I asked myself: “why would the guards be coming at this time?!” It wasn’t part of their usual routine. What could be going on?
The guard came to me, his face surly and scowling, his voice heavy with hatred, and said: “You have some visitors”.
That visit threw the doors of hope wide open. It made me feel that I wasn’t alone and that there were people other than me devoting their lives to defending the oppressed, regardless of their colour, ethnicity, gender or religion…
Those people believed in the right of each human being to freedom, as well as freedom of opinion and expression. They are some of the rare people who give hope to others, strive to spread the culture of life, and work tirelessly to go to the most remote places to advocate for the rule of law and respect for human rights.
On 25 July 2015, hope paid me a visit and broke my isolation. That hope, called Amnesty International, came in the form of Kiné-Fatim Diop and Gaëtan Mootoo. Although I was meeting them for the first time that day, I had the feeling that we had always known each other. It was as if I was sitting down and joking with friends, or members of my family…
Amnesty International's visit threw the doors of hope wide open. It made me feel that I wasn’t alone and that there were people other than me devoting their lives to defending the oppressed, regardless of their colour, ethnicity, gender or religion…Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaïtir
Amnesty International is one of the organisations that played a crucial role in my release. Kiné-Fatim, Gaëtan and their colleagues campaigned persistently and knocked on all the possible doors of hope. I was one of the people for whom those doors of freedom opened.
So, thank you Amnesty International! But time, how unjust you are… you denied me the chance of seeing Gaëtan again. Gaëtan was taken away before my release but will live on for eternity in the human consciousness. May your beautiful soul rest in peace. You are a friend I met only once, a brother who disappeared in the blink of an eye.