An appeals court in Mauritania yesterday upheld a death sentence handed down to Mohamed Cheikh Ould M’kheitir in December 2014 for “apostasy”. The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) has condemned the decision and called on the Mauritanian government to abolish the crimes of ‘apostasy’ and ‘blasphemy’.
As we reported last week, there were fears that M’kheitir would not even have a lawyer to represent him. It is reported that in the event two Tunisian lawyers flew to the country specially to represent M’kheitir pro bono because no Mauritanian lawyer would defend him.
In our earlier report we published an analysis of M’kheitir’s writing – which focused on examining the interplay of religious history and slavery in the country. Both religion and the country’s system of caste-based indentured servitude which remains widely in use are highly sensitive subjects in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania.
President of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), Andrew Copson, said today:
“To lock up and sentence to death a young person for questioning the culture in which they find themselves is not only a direct violation of human rights, it is a cowardly and ignorant act of aggression. We again call upon the higher court to overturn the death sentence and to pardon M’kheitir without reservation.
“And we again call upon the Mauritanian government to abolish the crimes of ‘apostasy’ and ‘blasphemy’ which violate international human rights standards and which violate Article 10 of the Mauritanian constitution, which explicitly guarantees ‘freedom of opinion and of thought’ and ‘freedom of expression’.”
The case may now be heard by the Supreme Court, however the IHEU remains deeply concerned that there are limited prospects of justice given the complete failures to date, as well as the massive political pressure from the president down against M’kheitir which prejudices the trial.