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Verdict in Mohamed Cheik Ould Mohamed’s case postponed

Status: 
Death sentence overturned
About the situation

On 9 November 2017, the Appeals Court in Nouadhibou, Mauritania, overturned the death sentence of blogger Mohamed cheik ould Mohamed, instead replacing it with a two year sentence and a fine. As the human rights defender has already served nearly four years in prison, he will now be released.

About Mohamed Cheik Ould Mohamed

mohamed cheik hould mohamed Mohamed Cheik Ould Mohamed is a slavery abolitionist, blogger, and freelance writer who often contributed to online news sites in Mauritania before his arrest, detention, and conviction.

10 November 2017
Mohamed cheikh ould Mohamed's death sentence overturned

On 9 November 2017, the Appeals Court in Nouadhibou, Mauritania, overturned the death sentence of blogger Mohamed cheik ould Mohamed, instead replacing it with a two year sentence and a fine. As the human rights defender has already served nearly four years in prison, he will now be released.

Mohamed cheikh ould Mohamed (also known as Mohamed cheikh ould M’khaitir) is a blogger and freelance writer who often contributed to online news sites in Mauritania before his arrest. On 31 December 2013, he submitted an article to the online site “Aqlame”, entitled “Religion, religiosity, and craftsmen”. This article critiqued the caste system in Mauritania and compared Mauritania’s societal structure to societal structure at the time of the Prophet Mohammed. Although the human rights defender had written many articles of this nature, this particular article was seen as an insult to the Prophet Mohammed. On 2 January 2014, Mohamed cheikh ould Mohamed was arrested, charged with “apostasy” and “insulting the Prophet Mohammed” under Article 306 of the Penal Code and detained in a prison in Nouadhibou. He was sentenced to death in December 2014.

On 15 November 2016, the Supreme Court in Nouakchott held a hearing on the blogger’s appeal of the death sentence for the crime of “apostasy” and the case was sent back to the Appeal Court for review.

On 9 November 2017, the Appeal Court in Nouadhibou, Mauritania, overturned the death sentence issued against the human rights defender. He was instead sentenced to two years’ imprisonment and received a fine equivalent to 145 Euro. As Mohamed cheik ould Mohamed has been imprisoned for nearly four years, he is to be released on the basis of time already served in prison. Human rights defenders have reported fundamentalist Islamist demonstrations taking place in Nouadhibou to protest the reduced sentence of Mohamed cheik ould Mohamed and fears exist for his safety on release.

Front Line Defenders welcomes the release of Mohamed cheikh ould Mohamed, however, it believes that the conviction against him should be quashed in its entirety as it is the result of the blogger’s legitimate and peaceful work in the defence of human rights. Front Line Defenders also strongly urges the Mauritanian authorities to ensure the safety of Mohamed cheikh ould Mohamed once released from prison.

Front Line Defenders continues to express serious concern regarding the continued detention of human rights defenders Abdellahi Matalla Saleck and Moussa Bilal Biram who were arrested in Mauritania on 30 June 2016. Front Line Defenders urges the authorities to cease targeting all human rights defenders in Mauritania and guarantee in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.

13 December 2016
A decision on Mohamed cheikh ould Mohamed’s case postponed

A decision on Mohamed cheikh ould Mohamed’s case will not be rendered on 20 December 2016 as planned, due to changes in the judges’ panel of the Supreme Court.

One of the Supreme Court judges was transferred to another court position elsewhere in Mauritania, and therefore a new appointee will replace them.

Following the transfer and replacement of one of the Supreme Court judges, it is reported that Mohamed cheikh ould Mohamed’s trial will recommence, from the beginning, before the Supreme Court, although the date for the new trial has not been set.

18 November 2016
Final hearing in Mohamed cheikh ould Mohamed’s trial

On 15 November 2016 in Nouakchott, the Supreme Court held the final hearing in Mr Mohamed cheikh ould Mohamed’s appeal of his sentence to the death penalty for the crime of ‘apostasy’. The Supreme Court will release its decision in the case on 20 December 2016.

Download the Urgent Appeal (PDF)

From 2 January 2014 to 23 December 2014, Mohamed cheikh ould Mohamed was held in prison in unsanitary conditions, awaiting his trial. On 24 December 2014, after a two-day trial, he was convicted for the crimes of ‘blasphemy’ and ‘insulting the Prophet Mohammed’ under Article 306 of the Penal Code and sentenced to death. During the trial, the court forbid any discussion of the content of the articles published by Mohamed cheikh ould Mohamed during the trial without explaining why.

Mohamed cheikh ould Mohamed filed an appeal of his sentence in October 2015. The process was delayed on several different occasions by the Appeals Court, and during the trial there were several inconsistencies. The most significant was the fact that the Appeals Court judge confirmed his sentence to the death penalty, when, legally, the Appeals Court does not have the authority to do so. The final decision was granted on 21 April 2016. Following its decision, the Appeals Court referred the case to the Supreme Court so that the sincerity of Mohamed cheikh ould Mohamed’s repentance could be assessed. On 15 November 2016, the hearing to review the Appeals Court decision was held at the Supreme Court and the final decision will be announced 20 December 2016. The Supreme Court has the power to cancel or reduce, to two years, Mohamed cheikh ould Mohamed’s sentence, if they determine that he has sufficiently and sincerely repented.

Immediately following his arrest, and during his detention, Mohamed cheikh ould Mohamed has repented on several occasions in writing and verbally. This included when the writer repented during a recorded interrogation in the prison by police. In court, police declared that they had lost the recording of Mohamed cheikh ould Mohamed’s repentance. Mohamed cheikh ould Mohamed has also repented in the presence of the investigating judge, the Criminal Court and the Appeals Court.

Mohamed cheikh ould Mohamed is still being held in a prison in Nouadhibou where his health has deteriorated significantly since 2014. It is reported that he does not have access to adequate portions of food, potable water, or medical care. Mohamed cheikh ould Mohamed suffers from malaria and is not receiving treatment for this condition.

Front Line Defenders wishes to express its serious concern about the pattern of persecution of human rights defenders in Mauritania, including ongoing instances of threats and harassment of Mohamed Ccheikh ould Mohammed’s defense lawyers and about the inconsistencies in trial.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Mauritania to:

1. Immediately quash the conviction against Mohamed cheikh ould Mohamed, as Front Line Defenders believes that it comes as a result of his legitimate and peaceful work in the defence of human rights and religious of thought;

2. Ensure that the treatment of Mohamed cheikh ould Mohamed, while in detention, adheres to the conditions set out in the ‘Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment', adopted by UN General Assembly resolution 43/173 of 9 December 1988 to which Mauritania is a signatory;

3. Provide the necessary medical treatment for malaria while Mohamed cheikh ould Mohamed is in prison;

4. Cease targeting all human rights defenders in Mauritania and guarantee in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.