In Mauritania, an appeals court is set to review on Wednesday the case of a young blogger sentenced to death after posting a 2014 article challenging the use of religion to support social injustice.
Mohammed Ould Mkhaitir was arrested almost four years ago after sharing his critical views on the way Islam is wielded as a weapon to perpetuate what is essentially modern-day slavery in the western African nation. He was initially charged with apostasy and – although that charge was later reduced – the death sentence remains.
Mkhaitir’s case drew angry street protests from those calling for his execution as well as those who wished to defend human rights and free speech. The social and political instability surrounding the widely publicized case led to frequent court delays and postponements.
On Friday, Mauritanian journalist Mohamed Diop reported that police authorities prevented protesters calling for Mkhaitir’s execution from marching in the streets of Nouakchott.
The Human Rights Watch organization said Mkhaitir’s parents fled the country last December amid death threats that are common among human rights activists who support the blogger.
“Mauritania has no business charging anyone with ‘apostasy,’ much less sentencing a blogger to death for such an absurd charge based on an article he wrote,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the regional HRW director. “It’s good that the appeals court is reviewing this case, but he never should have been charged in the first place.”
The Freedom Now organization has provided legal counsel to Mkhaitir in the past, along with local lawyers, some of whom quit during the proceedings because of the death threats. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and other rights groups have appealed to President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz on the blogger’s behalf without success.
Aziz initially 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.”