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In Mauritania, blogger sentenced to death for apostasy

This statement was originally published on cpj.org on 26 December 2014.

The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned the death sentence handed down Wednesday to Mauritanian blogger Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed on apostasy charges in connection to an article he published a year ago.

Mohamed was arrested on January 2, 2014, for his December 31, 2013, article, called "Religion, religiosity and craftsmen," which said that followers of Islam interpreted the religion according to circumstance. The article criticized Mauritania's caste system, an extremely delicate subject, Reuters reported.

In court, Mohamed said he had not intended to insult the Prophet Muhammad and had repented, according to news reports. However, the court proceeded to sentence him to death, a first on apostasy charges in Mauritania, the reports said.

Local news reports suggested there were political and religious motives behind the case. A fatwa was issued to kill Mohamed, and nationwide demonstrations led his family to denounce him and his lawyer to drop him. No other lawyer other than those assigned by the court then came forward to take up his case, the reports said.

"We call on authorities in Mauritania not to carry out this sentence," said Sherif Mansour, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. "Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed should be freed and his safety protected."

The trial began Tuesday but was postponed to Wednesday by the judge after an altercation broke out in court when the prosecutor admitted to being a member of the caste that the blogger criticized in his article, according to news reports. Mohamed belongs to a lower social class.

Local news reports also said the trial was attended by several religious leaders who insisted on monitoring the proceedings to ensure Sharia law was carried out. When the defendant was brought to court, the crowd cheered "Allah Akbar," and then celebrated the verdict, according to the same reports.

News reports did not say whether the blogger would appeal. However, the defendant is eligible to be pardoned by the Supreme Court if his repentance is verified, according to article 306 of the Mauritanian penal code.

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