ECPM welcomes the release of Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir after more than a year and a half of incommunicado detention [Press release]

3 August 2019

After five years of detention, almost two of which spent incommunicado, Mauritanian blogger Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir was finally released on Monday 29 July and is now, since Friday 2 August, in safety in Europe.

On Monday, July 8, President Ould Abdel Aziz met with a commission of ulemas to consult them on this subject. The religious leaders made Mr. Mkhaitir's new public repentance on social networks and in the media a condition for his release.

On the same day, Mr. Mkhaitir posted a message on his Facebook page for the first time since 2014: "As I announced at the beginning of 2014 and as I have repeated on every occasion before the courts, I reaffirm here my repentance before Allah, the Lord of the Worlds". On July 11, Mr. Mkhaitir was live on the Mauritanian TV news to declare his repentance once again. Released on 29 July, Mr. Mkhaitir was transferred for a few days to Dakar where he was supported by the international community. He is currently on his way to Europe where a country, which we keep discreet for security reasons, will grant him asylum.

"This decision is a triumph of justice since it was the Mauritanian justice system itself that, in April 2017, ordered Mohamed Mkhaitir's release. His detention implied a total violation of the rights of an individual but also of the rights of the entire Mauritanian population, in particular the right to have access to legal security".

Raphaël Chenuil-Hazan, Director of ECPM

ECPM welcomes this decision and calls on newly elected President Mohamed Sheikh El-Ghazouani and the authorities of Mr. Mkhaitir's host country to do their utmost to ensure the safety and restoration of the blogger's well-being.

Background information

Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir, a Mauritanian blogger, was arrested in 2014 after publishing an article in which he denounced the instrumentalization of religion to legitimize discrimination against the blacksmiths' caste. In the same year, he was sentenced to death for apostasy under article 306 of the Criminal Code by the Criminal Court of Nouadhibou. This was the first use of this article since Mauritania's independence in 1960.

His death sentence had been confirmed on appeal despite two appeals of repentance and a reclassification of the facts as disbelief. The Supreme Court had been asked to rule on the veracity of the repentance; it had quashed the judgment of the Court of Appeal on 31 January 2017 on procedural grounds, referring the case back to a differently composed Court of Appeal. A new trial took place on 8 and 9 November 2017 and Mr. Mkhaitir was finally sentenced to two years in prison and a fine of about 150 euros. Having already spent nearly four years in prison, he was immediately released. However, the Mauritanian authorities kept him in secret detention for almost two years after the verdict.

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ECPM is the French reference association for the fight for the universal abolition of the death penalty since 2000. It has been working for more than 10 years on Mauritania, in particular with the Mauritanian Human Rights Association (AMDH).

Since 2014, ECPM has taken multiple actions to ensure that Mr. Mkhaitir is not sentenced to death and is released in accordance with the court decision. In addition to numerous public or non-public advocacy actions with Mauritanian authorities and international and regional human rights protection bodies and various actions to monitor the judicial process, ECPM, in partnership with the AMDH, referred the matter to the United Nations Special Rapporteurs in March 2017.

In addition, ECPM had repeatedly called for Mr. Mkhaitir's release and reiterated this recommendation in various notes, reports and advocacy documents. In February 2019, for example, ECPM published a report on the application of the death penalty in Mauritania entitled "Le bagne au pays des sables: peine de mort, conditions de détention et de traitement des condamnés à mort" (released in french and arabic).

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In June 2019, ECPM submitted a joint alternative report with the AMDH and Planète Réfugiés-Droits de l'Homme (PRDH) to the United Nations Human Rights Committee for consideration of Mauritania's periodic report in which this case is mentioned.

In an open letter published on 21 June, ECPM and 11 other NGOs urged President Ould Abdel Aziz to use his remaining few weeks as head of the country to end the blogger's arbitrary detention.