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From death sentence to freedom: Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed

Near Nouadhibou Cap-Blanc shipwreck, Mauritania, 24 March 2013
Near Nouadhibou Cap-Blanc shipwreck, Mauritania, 24 March 2013

Flickr/Jbdodane (CC BY-NC 2.0)

This statement was originally published on rsf.org on 10 November 2017.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is relieved to learn that Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed, a Mauritanian blogger sentenced to death in 2014 for "blaspheming" the Prophet in a blog post, was finally freed yesterday. Detained for the past three years, Mohamed was released after an appeal court in the northern city of Nouadhibou reduced his sentence to two years in prison. Prosecutors have nonetheless appealed against the court's decision, calling it too lenient.

Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed's judicial ordeal began when a Nouadhibou criminal court found him guilty of apostasy and sentenced him to death in December 2014, although he gave a public apology and denied intending to insult the Prophet in his December 2013 blog post.

A Nouadhibou appeal court upheld the death sentence on 21 April 2016 but changed the charge on which was convicted to "atheism" and asked Mauritania's supreme court to rule on the sincerity of his professed repentance.

The supreme court referred the case to a different appeal court, the one that finally issued its ruling yesterday. As well as giving Mohamed a two-year jail term, the court fined him 60,000 ouguiyas (150 euros).

However, prosecutors filed an appeal today against this decision, saying it was much too lenient and again seeking the death penalty for Mohamed.

"It is a relief to know that Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed is free at last and we hope he will not be subjected to another trial as a result of the prosecution's appeal to the supreme court," RSF editor in chief Virginie Dangles said.
"This blogger should never have had to spend three years of his life in prison because of what he wrote. His case has deeply divided Mauritanian society and we urge the authorities to lose no time in doing whatever is necessary to protect him."

Mohamed's lawyer said she was not sure if it would be safe for her client to remain in Mauritania, given the hostile climate and the fact that prosecutors are again seeking the death penalty.

Thousands of people have protested to demand the death sentence whenever his case has come before a court. Another hostile street demonstration took place in the capital, Nouakchott, a week ago.

No one has been executed in Mauritania since 1987 and Mohamed was the first person in his country to be sentenced to death for apostasy. RSF and other free speech organizations had constantly called for his release for the past three years.

Mauritania has fallen in RSF's World Press Freedom Index in recent years and is now ranked 55th out of 180 countries.

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