Mauritanian Blogger Handed Capital Punishment Over Apostasy
January 2, 2014, Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed was arrested for an article he published in December 31, 2013 called, “Religion, Religiosity and Craftsmen.” The article is said to be depicting Muslims as religious followers who interpret the religion according to circumstances. It also criticized the Mauritania’s caste system, which according to Reuters is an extremely delicate subject.
According to various news reports, Mohamed pleaded in court that his intention was not to insult the Prophet Muhammad and that he had repented. Despite all that, the Mauritania court went ahead to hand him the capital punishment and the first apostasy charges to be given in Mauritania.
Local media are running news reports alleging that there could be some political and religious motives behind his trial. Mohamed was given a fatwa, ordering his killing, and there was a nationwide protest that led to his family denouncing him and his lawyer dropping his case. No other lawyer would take up his case other than the one assigned to him by the court. Only the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) came out in his defense, and the death sentence handed down to Mohamed last Wednesday.
Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East, and North Africa program coordinator said, “We call on authorities in Mauritania not to carry out this sentence. Mohamed Cheick Ould Mohamed should be freed, and his safety protected.”
Mohamed’s trial was slated to take place on Tuesday Dec 23. But had to be postponed till Wednesday after chaos broke out in court when it emerged that the prosecutor was from the caste that the blogger had criticized in his article. Apparently Mohamed comes from a lower social class.
Local media also report that the trial attracted the presence of a number of religious leaders who seemingly attended the hearing in order to ensure that Sharia law was adhered to. When the defendant entered the court, the people inside the court started cheering “Allah Akbar,” and when the death sentence was given, they began celebrating.
However, according to article 306 of Mauritania’s penal code, the defendant is eligible for pardoning by the Supreme Court if it can be verified that he has repented.