As the date for Mauritania to review the death penalty case of blogger Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed draws near, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and other free-press advocates have again appealed to the nation’s leaders to reconsider his case.
In a letter Friday to President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, the CPJ reviewed the details of a case that began when the blogger, also known as Mohamed Ould M’Kaitir, published an online piece in 2014 taking aim at the ways that religion is wielded as a weapon to perpetuate caste-system social injustice in Mauritania.
He was subsequently arrested on blasphemy charges and has been sentenced to death, despite admitting wrongdoing and apologizing for his work. The review of Mohamed’s case is scheduled for November 15.
The initial arrest touched off protests in the Islamic Republic, both from those who called for Mohamed to be punished for insulting the faith and those who wished to defend human rights and free speech.
“Regardless of the court’s ruling, we ask you to instruct your government to ensure his physical safety inside and outside prison,” said the letter, signed by CPJ Executive Editor Joel Simon and the heads of other media protection groups.
“Since his imprisonment two years ago, preachers have called for his death, according to press reports. Those who have spoken out on his behalf have themselves been labeled as infidels and received violent threats, according to news accounts.”
Aziz has told Mauritanians that media content must respect Islam, and the government “will do everything that is necessary to protect the Islamic religion and to defend the Messenger of Allah.”
Activists say Mauritania has renewed its arrest of anti-slavery activists, in a nation where tougher anti-slavery measures were enacted in 2015 but the rate continues to be one of the highest in the world, according to the Global Slavery Index.
Its deep roots in a caste-system culture influenced by religion are what Mohamed’s article sought to address; despite the new laws, Mauritania still is not enforcing them effectively, the GSI said.