New York, April 21, 2016– An appeals court in Nouadhibou today upheld the death sentence for Mauritanian blogger and freelance journalist Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed, who was convicted of apostasy in 2014 for an article he wrote, according to news reports.
The appeals court referred the case to Mauritania’s Supreme Court, which has the power to repeal the sentence, reports said. Under article 306 in the Mauritanian penal code, if the Supreme Court rules that a defendant is repentant, it can reduce the sentence to up to two years in jail and up to 60,000 Mauritanian ouguiya (US$172.93.)
“We strongly condemn today’s verdict against Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed, and call on Mauritania’s Supreme Court to repeal the sentence,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “This mockery of a judicial process, which could end someone’s life for writing an article, should be consigned to the history books.”
The appeal hearing today was held under tight security after the article Mohamed wrote led in January 2014 to nationwide demonstrations, in which protesters called for President Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz to punish Mohamed for what they saw as blasphemy, according to reports. The president told reporters in April 2014 that he did not believe Mohamed was aware of the seriousness of what he had written.
Mohamed’s article–published on December 31, 2013, on the news website Aqlame–criticized Mauritania’s caste system and said that followers of Islam interpreted the religion according to circumstance, Reuters reported. The editor of Aqlame, Riad Ould Ahmed, took down the article from the website and issued a statement on January 4, 2014, saying it had been posted accidentally.
During today’s court session, Mohamed admitted he had made a mistake and asked for forgiveness, according to news reports. On January 11, 2014, Mohamed issued a statement from prison denying that he intended to insult the Prophet Muhammad.
During the appeal hearing, the prosecution called for death by firing squad, according to reports. The defense demanded that the appeals court withdraw the blogger’s 2014 death sentence because it was based on his social class, and asked the court to take into consideration his repentance, according to news reports.