The Case of Mauritanian Blogger Mohamed Cheikh Ould M’khaitir

On Appeal Contracts Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Electronic / Internet-based Communication
  • Date of Decision
    April 21, 2016
  • Outcome
    Affirmed Lower Court, Criminal Sanctions
  • Case Number
    N/A
  • Region & Country
    Mauritania, Africa
  • Judicial Body
    Appellate Court
  • Type of Law
    Criminal Law
  • Themes
    Religious Expression, Political Expression
  • Tags
    Death Penalty, Apostasy

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

The Nouadhibou Court of Appeals upheld the death sentence against a blogger and freelance journalist Mohamed Cheikh Ould M’khaitir for the crime of apostasy. upheld the death sentence, and referred the case to the country’s Supreme Court. The case stems from the blogger’s publication in 2013 in which he made blasphemous statements against Islam and the Prophet Mohammed. Pursuant to the Mauritania’s criminal provision on apostasy, if the defendant repents before his or her execution, the Supreme Court has the authority to commute the death penalty to a prison sentence and a fine.

Columbia Global Freedom of Expression could not identify the official legal and government records on the case and that the information contained in this report was derived from secondary sources. It must be noted that media outlets may not provide complete information about this case. Additional information regarding this legal matter will be updated as an official source becomes available.


Facts

In December 2013, the 29-year-old blogger, Mohamed Cheikh Ould M’khaitir, published an article entitled “Religion, Religiosity and Craftsmen” on the Aqlame news website.  The main theme of his article concerned the marginalized status of Mauritania’s craftsmen population. He also criticized the country’s caste system and those who use religion to marginalize certain groups of society.

In his article, M’khaitir compared the issue of marginalization to Prophet Mohammed’s treatment of the Jews of the Hijaz.  He also allegedly challenged the prophet’s decisions during the holy wars.  Soon after, the news website removed the article for what it considered to be blasphemous allegations against Islam and the Prophet Mohammed.

On January 2, 2014, M’khaitir was arrested and charged with the crime of apostasy. The blogger denied that he had intended to insult the prophet.The public prosecutor sought the death penalty. In December 2014, the first instance court in Nouadhibou, Mauritania, convicted and sentenced blogger and freelance journalist Mohamed Cheikh Ould M’khaitir to death for the crime of apostasy.

Under Article 306 of the Mauritanian Criminal Code, a Muslim who is found guilty of apostasy has the opportunity “to repent within three days.” If the accused does not repent, he or she is subject to the death penalty.


Decision Overview

According to Article 306 of the Mauritanian Penal Code, “[e]very Muslim guilty of the crime of apostasy, either by word or by action of apparent or obvious, will be invited to repent within three days.  If the accused does not repent within this time, he is to be sentenced to death, and all of his property shall be confiscated by the government.”

M’khaitir denied the charges, stating that his intention had not been to offend the prophet. However, the lower court of Nouadhibou found him guilty of apostasy and sentenced him to death.  The court held that the article evidenced apostasy as it spoke “lightly of the Prophet Mohammed.”  At the sentencing hearing, the court emphasized that the Penal Code imposes death penalty for “any Muslim man or woman who abandon[s] Islam openly or through acts or statements.”

Two years later, in April 2016, the Nouadhibou Court of Appeals upheld the death penalty. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, he admitted before the court that he had made a mistake and asked for forgiveness. The Court of Appeals referred the case to the Supreme Court of Mauritania pursuant to Article 306 of the Penal Code. If the Supreme Court finds that a person awaiting execution has repented, it can reduce the sentence to up to two years in prison and a fine of 60,000 Mauritanian ouguiya (approximately $ 172.93).

To date, the Supreme Court’s final ruling is pending.

Columbia Global Freedom of Expression could not identify the official legal and government records on the case and that the information contained in this report was derived from secondary sources. It must be noted that media outlets may not provide complete information about this case. Additional information regarding this legal matter will be updated as an official source becomes available.


Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Contracts Expression

The decision conditions freedom of expression upon religious convictions and sets a new precedent in Mauritania by imposing the death penalty for the exercise of the right to freedom of expression.  The decision marks the first death sentence for apostasy in Mauritania since its independence in 1960.

Global Perspective

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Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Case Significance

Quick Info

Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.

As upheld by the Court of Appeals, this marks the first ever death penalty sentence in Mauritania for the commission of apostasy.

Official Case Documents

Reports, Analysis, and News Articles:


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