Mauritania must immediately and unconditionally release human rights defender Mohamed Mkhaïtir, who has been sentenced to death for criticizing the use of Islam to justify discriminatory practices against minority ethnic groups in the country, Amnesty International said ahead of his appeal trial.
The case of Mohamed Mkhaïtir, who was sentenced to death in December 2014 for a “blasphemous” post he made on Facebook, will be heard for a second time by an appeal court in the north-western town of Nouadhibou tomorrow.
This case is absurd and represents a real setback for freedom of expression in a country that has not imposed punishment for apostasy in more than 50 years of independenceKiné-Fatim Diop, Amnesty International’s West Africa Campaigner
“This case is absurd and represents a real setback for freedom of expression in a country that has not imposed punishment for apostasy in more than 50 years of independence,” said Kiné-Fatim Diop, Amnesty International’s West Africa Campaigner.
“Mohamed Mkhaïtir is a prisoner of conscience who has been in detention for three years solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression and standing-up against discrimination. His scandalous death sentence must be quashed and he should be immediately and unconditionally released.”
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.
He was arrested on 5 January 2014 and charged with apostasy. During the first six months of his detention, he was held in solitary confinement in a cell without toilets or a shower.
During the trial hearing, Mohamed Mkhaïtir publicly repented, saying it was not his intention to speak lightly of the Prophet Mohammed in his writings. He was convicted and sentenced to death on 25 December 2014. In April 2016, the Nouadhibou Court of Appeal upheld his death sentence and referred his case to the Supreme Court in order to consider the veracity of his repentance. However the same Supreme Court quashed the decision and referred Mohamed Mkhaïtir’s case back to the Appeal Court of Nouadhibou.
“This death sentence has been imposed in blatant contradiction to Mauritania’s obligations under international human rights law particularly the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to which it is state party,” said Kiné-Fatim Diop.
“Authorities should release Mohamed Mkhaïtir now and put an end to the farcical legal proceedings against him, which have been detrimental to his health and life.”