Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir, a 29 year-old Mauritanian blogger, was sentenced to death in December 2014 on the charge of apostasy after he wrote an article about the Prophet Mohamed and his use of the caste system. His sentence marked the first such charge to carry a death sentence since Muslim-majority Mauritania’s independence from France in 1960.
An appeal court has upheld the death sentence on 22 April, 2016. Mohamed Cheikh’s case was referred to the Supreme Court for a final review.
In August 2015, Ensaf Haidar, the wife of Raif Badawi, has called on the world to rally for Mkhaitir’s release, saying if the world would not act, the West African man would be executed. In an editorial for British newspaper The Independent, Badawi’s wife Ensar Haidar wrote:
“Millions of people around the world rallied to the support of Raif Badawi; who will care for a poor young man in Mauritania?”
Haidar argued that while her blogger husband, who is currently in a Saudi prison serving a 10-year-sentence including 1,000 lashes for his blog, received mass support from around the world, Mohamed Cheikh has been tortured in prison and risks being “executed at any time”.
In Mohamed Cheikh’s article for the Mauritanian news site Aqlame, entitled “Religion, Religiosity and Craftsmen”, he compared the Prophet Mohamed’s treatment of the Jews during the holy wars to the marginalization of Mauritania’s craftsmen.
At his sentencing, he apologized before the judge for what he wrote, saying he did not mean to criticize Islam. After the judge read out the death penalty sentence, Mohamed Cheikh fainted, according to Columbia University‘s Global Freedom of Expression.
Thousands of Mauritanians rallied for Mohamed Cheikh to receive the death sentence. The protests drew endorsement from the Mauritanian government, including President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who said “God’s law” will be applied to anyone who insults the Prophet Mohamed. Paradoxically, the president has been a force of positive change in the country’s media scene, which has improved in recent years by increasing the number of female correspondents and widening access to the Internet.