Blogger escapes death penalty for apostasy on Facebook

Tuareg walking in the desert in Mauritania Image credit: Estebanos | shutterstock.com

NOUAKCHOTT (Reuters) – A Mauritanian blogger condemned to death in 2014 for apostasy over a Facebook post about Islam has been freed, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders and his lawyer said on Tuesday.

Mohamed Ould Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir had spent over five years in jail after a high-profile case surrounding a post in which he criticised the use of religion to justify social discrimination.

He originally faced the death penalty for comments interpreted as a direct criticism of the Prophet Mohammad, but his sentence was later downgraded.

His article touched a nerve in Mauritania, a West African country with deep social and racial divisions. Thousands protested in the capital Nouakchott and other cities during the trial demanding Mkhaitir be put to death.

“His release is a massive relief after over five years … of detention in near-total isolation,” said Christophe Deloire, secretary general of Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Mkhaitir was released on Monday and immediately left Mauritania for safety reasons, his lawyer, Mohamed Ould Moine, told Reuters.

“He spent two years in total isolation, was sometimes physically attacked, separated from his wife, and members of his family were harassed,” Moine said.

In 2017, his sentence was reduced to two years in prison – which he had already served – and a fine of 60,000 ouguiyas ($170), but he remained captive until now.

In the weeks leading up to his release, the blogger apologised for his post on Facebook and on public television. 

Mauritania has not carried out a death sentence since 1987, but in 2016 a group of influential Muslim clerics urged authorities to apply the harshest punishment regarding Mkhaitir’s case.

(Reporting by Kissima Diagana; Writing by Anna Pujol-Mazzini; Editing by Alessandra Prentice)

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