Africa’s Raid Badawi apparently no longer threatened with death penalty

Hope for imprisoned blogger in Mauritania (Press Release)

Blogger Mohamed Ould M’Kheitir, who has been imprisoned for three years, had been found guilty of apostasy and sentenced to death in 2014. Photo: Pixabay

The Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) has expressed relief about the news that a Mauritanian blogger who had been sentenced to death for apostasy is apparently no longer threatened with the death penalty. According to Mauritanian media, the Supreme Court had reevaluated the case and settled on “unbelief” and, therefore, on a less serious penalty. “This is, of course, is good news for Mohamed Ould M’Kheitir, who is still in prison. However, it would have been more courageous if the court had decided to have the young blogger released – despite the protests of the Islamists in the country. With his blog entry, he had never planned to defame the prophet Mohammed, but only to draw attention to social problems,” said Ulrich Delius, the STP’s Africa-expert, in Göttingen on Friday. The blogger, who has been imprisoned for three years, had been found guilty of apostasy and sentenced to death in 2014.

Since then, the Mauritanian judiciary had quite a lot to with the issue – which had gotten a lot of attention in the country – and the actual execution had been postponed time and time again. “Obviously, Mauritania’s government was concerned about the country’s international reputation if M’Kheitir, whose fate was often compared to that of the imprisoned Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi, were to be executed,” Delius explained. “Thus, Mauritania is experiencing a bizarre court farce, and the one who suffers most is the young blogger who is waiting for his execution.”

The most recent highlight of the trial was that the Supreme Court decided not to confirm a decision by the court of first instance (January 31, 2017) by which the death penalty would have been lifted. Instead, it was decided to reassess the factual circumstances – but without clarifying which court was responsible and when the proceedings should take place. Now, the Supreme Court took the initiative, deciding that the blogger should not be tried for “apostasy” but for “unbelief”.

At the beginning of March 2017, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment, Juan E. Mendez, had criticized Mauritania for the way the blogger was treated. Human rights organizations such as the STP have been demanding his release for months. “M’Kheitir had only criticized that the caste of the ‘Blacksmiths’ is discriminated against, and that religious issues are instrumentalized to suppress the minority groups in Mauritania,” Delius explained. “It would be against all principles of freedom of speech to criminalize him for this.”