Mauritanian blogger Mohammed Ould Mkhaitir is now free, after an appeals court reviewed and overturned a death sentence imposed for publishing a 2014 article that challenged the use of religion to support social injustice.
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 remained.
The court reduced his sentence to less than his time already served, and ordered Mkhaitir released.
“This is a huge victory for him and his family, as well as for all those who have campaigned on his behalf since 2014, said Alioune Tine, director of Amnesty International’s West and Central Africa program. Tine called on Mauritanian authorities to also release Moussa Biram and Abdallahi Matallah, two anti-slavery activists still held in prison.
Amnesty further said Mauritanian authorities must ensure that the newly-released Mkhaitir is not subjected to any physical threat. 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, which are common to 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. He never should have been charged in the first place, she said.