– He is convicted of apostasy


An appeal court in Mauritania has sentenced a blogger to death for apostasy, upholding the death sentence handed out by a lower court. The judge has however referred his case to the Supreme Court.

Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed M’khaitir was arrested in January 2014 for an article criticizing those who use religion as a means of discrimination. M’khaitir had apologised and said he never meant to insult the Muslim Prophet Muhammad.

The Supreme Court however has the jurisdiction to pardon upon conviction of the sincerity of his conviction. A report made available by AFP has the original announcement of his death sentence was met with public celebrations.

According to the BBC, The blogger in his early thirties, had posted an article on the Aqlame newspaper’s website in December 2013 that was later taken down as it was deemed blasphemous towards the Prophet Muhammad.

It reportedly criticised Mauritania’s caste system, a sensitive subject in a country with deep social and racial divisions, and criticised those who used religion to marginalise certain groups.

Apostasy, which means the abandonment of one’s religious faith, is considered a criminal offence in many Muslim countries, Mauritania being one.

However the committee to Project Journalists has condemned the militaristic judicial process that has seen their colleague denied his basic human rights and unfairly condemned.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says the appeal court hearing on Thursday was held under tight security – and it condemned the ruling.

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The appeal hearing today was held under tight security after the article Mohamed wrote led in January 2014 to nationwide demonstrations, in which protesters called for President Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz to punish Mohamed for what they saw as blasphemy, according to reports. The president told reporters in April 2014 that he did not believe Mohamed was aware of the seriousness of what he had written, CPJ reports

“This mockery of a judicial process, which could end someone’s life for writing an article, should be consigned to the history books,” the international press freedom group’s Sherif Mansour said in a statement.

Mohamed’s article–published on December 31, 2013, on the news website Aqlame–criticized Mauritania’s caste system and said that followers of Islam interpreted the religion according to circumstance, Reuters reported. The editor of Aqlame, Riad Ould Ahmed, took down the article from the website and issued a statement on January 4, 2014, saying it had been posted accidentally.

During today’s court session, Mohamed admitted he had made a mistake and asked for forgiveness, according to news reports. On January 11, 2014, Mohamed issued a statement from prison denying that he intended to insult the Prophet Muhammad.

During the appeal hearing, the prosecution called for death by firing squad, according to reports. The defense demanded that the appeals court withdraw the blogger’s 2014 death sentence because it was based on his social class, and asked the court to take into consideration his repentance, according to news reports.

Under Mauritanian law, if the Supreme Court rules that a defendant is repentant, it can reduce the sentence to up to two years in jail and up to about $173 (£120), the CPJ reports.