Mauritania Must Free Man on Death Row for Apostasy, Group Says

  • Death sentence for man who criticized caste system upheld
  • Rights group says M'khaitir has publicly expressed remorse

Mauritania should release a man who’s been sentenced to death in 2014 after criticizing the West African nation’s caste system in an article on his Facebook page, making it the first-ever conviction for apostasy in the Muslim country, according to a rights group.

Mohamed Cheikh Ould M’khaitir, 31, has publicly expressed remorse, which under Muslim law should convert his sentence to two years in prison, Fatimata M’baye, head of the Mauritanian Association for Human Rights, said Thursday by phone. M’khaitir qualifies for release because he’s already served two years, she said.

An appeals court in the port city of Nouadhibou upheld the death sentence in a ruling last week but said it would send M’khaitir’s file to the Supreme Court to evaluate the sincerity of his apology. M’Khaitir, whose article triggered street protests and calls for his execution after being circulated on social media, had argued that several social classes in Mauritania including his blacksmith caste were the object of centuries-old discrimination dating from the Prophet Muhammad’s time.

Mauritania hasn’t carried out a death sentence since 1987. The office of the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights said Wednesday it deplored the decision by the appeals court. As a supporter of strengthened regional cooperation against militant groups planning attacks in West Africa, President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz is seen as an ally of France and the U.S.

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