We, African youth and defenders of freedom and human dignity, with the support of human rightsliberty and freedom defenders, have learned with great sorrow that the death penalty has been imposed on Mohamed Ould Cheikh Mohamed Mkhaitir who was accused of apostasy despite his multiple recantations of the statements in question.
This heavy sentence was imposed based on assertions that Mohamed Ould Cheikh Mohamed Mkhaitir “spoke lightly of the Prophet (PBUH)” in an article published on Mauritanian websites on December 30, 2013. In the article, entitled “Religion, Religiosity, and the Blacksmiths”, Mr. Mkhaitir demonstrated how the “Zawayas”, or marabouts, manipulated historical facts cited by Muslim scholars to justify their dominance over the “blacksmiths”, of which he is a member. He accused Mauritanian society of perpetuating this “iniquitous socially inherited” cultural order into the present.
Mohamed Ould Cheikh Mohamed Mkhaitir publicly clarified his statements in an article published on December 31, 2013. He wrote, “To all those who have deliberately misunderstood my point, you know that I have not blasphemed against the Prophet (peace and salvation be upon him), and I never will. I certainly understand your readiness to defend the prophet because I too share this propensity to love and defend him. I assure you that we are all equal in our desire to defend all that is sacred to us.” One can still find his statement of clarification in some sites, such as on his Facebook page, which shows the date of publication is authentic.
The crime of apostasy is defined in section IV (entitled Act of Indecency toward Islam) of the Mauritanian Penal Code, established under the order of July 9, 1983. Article 306, paragraph 1 of the criminal code indicates, “Every 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.”
They go on to explain that he really didn’t commit “the crime of apostasy.” I don’t care if he did or not; he obviously did nothing to merit so much as a ticket, let alone imprisonment and execution.
The IHEU has more, from January.
The defendant, Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed (sometimes named alternatively as Cheikh Ould Mohamed Ould M’Kheitir, or Mkhaitir), has already been detained since January 2014. He pleaded not guilty to the charge, relating to an article he wrote in which he challenged decisions taken by the prophet of Islam and his companions during the “holy wars”. The prosecution argued that the writing constituted “speaking lightly of the Prophet Mohammed” and therefore was evidence of apostasy.
The death sentence handed down on 24 December 2014 by a court in Nouadhibou, north-west Mauritania, breaks a moratorium on death-for-apostasy rulings otherwise upheld in the country since 1960.
The article by Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed was also said to have criticised the caste system, accusing Mauritanian society of perpetuating “an iniquitous social order” drawn from Islamic precepts, in which those at the bottom of the hierarchy were “marginalised and discriminated against from birth”. Indeed, Mauritania has the highest proportion of slaves today in the world, and the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) and other human rights groups have repeatedly highlighted slow progress on the part of the state to in fact abolish slavery.
Well they’re obviously far too busy prosecuting citizens for saying anything critical of Islam. Priorities, people!
Just weeks before the sentencing, the ongoing case featured in theIHEU Freedom of Thought Report. The report noted that around his arrest in 2014, “there were a number of protests condemning his actions and angry at the pace with which his case was being dealt. There were numerous calls, including by imams, scholars and professors, for M’Kheitir’s execution. One preacher, Abi Ould Ali, offered 4,000 Euros to anyone who killed the blogger. The Mauritanian government and opposition parties supported the protests. President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz said, “We will apply God’s law on whoever insults the prophet, and whoever publishes such an insult.””
Lawyers for defendant argued that he was repentant and pleaded for leniency. Local Islamic organisations reportedly claimed that Mohamed’s article, which circulated on multiple online outlets, was the first text critical of Islam ever published in Mauritania. The verdict was celebrated joyously by many in court and on the streets.
Commenting on the sentencing, President of IHEU, Sonja Eggerickx, said:
“When doubting religion, or calling for social justice, are branded crimes — let alone capital crimes — the state’s contempt for human rights is starkly exposed.
“As we have seen in our work on slavery in Mauritania at the UN in Geneva, there are forces deeply resistant to the reform on Mauritania’s discriminatory social hierarchy. People representing these forces often claim Islam as a a justification for caste and slavery, and then brand all criticism of caste and slavery as anti-Islamic.
“The charge of apostasy — whether or not the charge is linked with social or political activism, whether the accused really is an apostate or not, and regardless whether there is public support for the sentence — is always a profoundly tyrannical charge. Apostasy laws contradict in the most basic and blatant sense, the human rights to freedom of thought and freedom of expression which we all share.”
It’s enough to make you want to pull all your hair out.