The Geneva-based International Publishers Association (IPA) has joined a growing international chorus appealing for clemency for Mauritanian blogger Mohamed Ould Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir, whose execution for apostasy is sought by clerics over a post written in December 2013.
In his article, Mr Mkhaitir reportedly criticized discrimination on religious grounds against certain ethnic groups in Mauritania. The blog post adjudged to be blasphemous, and for which the courts put him on death row, was apparently his first.
According to US-based organization Freedom Now, Mr. Mkhaitir was arrested and charged with apostasy on January 2, 2014. Following almost a year in prison, his two-day trial took place on 23 and 24 December 2014. Freedom Now’s campaign page states that the trial was marred by procedural irregularities, such as the court banning discussion of the actual content of the blog. In addition, three lawyers assigned to Mr. Mkhaitir dropped his case after receiving death threats.
Despite apologizing, expressing remorse and explaining that he never intended to insult Islam, Mr. Mkhaitir was sentenced to death by firing squad.
IPA President Richard Charkin said: ‘We cannot overstate the urgency of Mr Mkhaitir’s case. Mauritania’s government is under immense pressure from the Forum of Imams and Ulemas, who are bent on making an example of him by putting him to death. We implore the Mauritanian government not to undo the admirable progress it has made by not carrying out a single execution for almost 30 years. It would be a dreadful, irreparable mistake to resume capital punishment now, especially over a clearly contrite man who has done nothing more than express ideas in writing.’
Selami Ahmed El Meki, President of the Mauritanian Union for Publishing and Distribution, which became a provisional member of the IPA in October 2016, said: ‘We want nothing but peace and safety for Mauritania and for our country to move forward without undue harm to any individual. Our association represents its publishers and not its government; we fully believe in the individual’s right to freedom of expression and freedom to publish. We also believe in the importance of respecting other people’s opinions as part of our core values, which are focused on further developing our publishing industry and promoting freedom to publish for publishers and Mauritania as a whole in the hope that we can one day be counted among the developed countries.’