Human Rights Watch
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Mauritanian prosecutors on Friday said they had appealed against a two-year prison term served on a blogger who had earlier received a death sentence for blasphemy.

Cheikh Ould Mohamed Ould Mkheitir was given the two-year term on Thursday by an appeals court in the northwest town of Nouadhibou.

“The prosecutors immediately filed an appeal to the Supreme Court” to ensure “a sound and rigorous application of the law,” prosecutors there said in a statement.

Mkheitir has been in custody since January 2014 and thus was eligible for immediate release after Thursday’s ruling. He was also fined 60,000 ouguiyas (146 euros, $169). His whereabouts are not known.

A Muslim in his thirties, Mkheitir was sentenced to death in December 2014 over a blog which questioned decisions taken by the Prophet Mohammed and his companions during holy wars in the seventh century.

He also attacked the mistreatment of Mauritania’s black population, blasting “an iniquitous social order” with an underclass that was “marginalised and discriminated against from birth.”

His case has sparked outrage from rights activists but also fuelled demands for the death sentence to be carried out in the deeply conservative Muslim country.

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On April 21 2016, the court of appeal confirmed the death penalty, but reclassified the crime from blasphemy to “unbelieving,” for which the punishment is less if the defendant repents.

The case was then sent to the Supreme Court, which on January 31 this year sent it back to the appeals court “in order to correct mistakes made,” without elaboration.

Thursday’s decision in favour of a jail term sparked scenes of outrage in court and fresh demands for the blogger to be executed.

Appeals were launched on social media for Friday to be observed as a “day of anger.”

Security was beefed up in sensitive areas in the capital Nouakchott after weekly Friday afternoon prayers.

Capital punishment in Mauritania, a vast, mainly desert state in west Africa, is usually reserved for murder and acts of terrorism.

According to Amnesty, Mauritania last executed a prisoner in 1987.

Mkheitir on Wednesday told judges that he had “uncovered mistakes in his article” which he “immediately corrected in another article.

He also expressed “every repentance and apologies” and assured the court of his “faith in Allah and his prophet”.

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