Mauritania delays top court ruling on 'infidel' blogger

21.12.2016

Mauritania's Supreme Court on Tuesday postponed a review of a death sentence handed to a blogger convicted over a "blasphemous" post as thousands gathered to call for his execution. Cheikh Ould Mohamed Ould Mkheitir's parents fled the country for Senegal last week, fearing for their lives, family and security sources told journalists.

Thousands of protesters gathered near the courtroom in Nouakchott demanding that Mkheitir still be put to death after his crime was downgraded from apostasy. Capital punishment is usually reserved for murder and terrorism.

A judicial source told journalists that the court had "adjourned its deliberations" after one of the justices considering the case was replaced.

Police fired tear gas at the angry protesters and scuffles broke out until police agreed to allow the demonstration to continue in a nearby square.

Mkheitir was initially sentenced to death for apostasy in 2014 after being judged to have insulted the Prophet Mohammed in an article posted online.

His lawyer, Fatimata Mbaye, described the court's decision as largely procedural.

"In keeping with the law, no date has been fixed for the reading of the judgement," she said.

The new judge would need time to get to become familiarised with the case, according to Mbaye.

It is thought that Mkheitir's parents are hoping to settle in France. His father, a civil servant, sold his belongings to fund the move. "He doesn't intend to come back here while he feels threatened," a source close to the family told journalists.

Mkheitir's original article attacked Mauritania's social order, suggesting that an underclass descended from slaves was "marginalised and discriminated against from birth". Modern-day slavery is common in Mauritania with members of the country's "slave caste" forced to work without pay as cattle herders and domestic servants, despite an official ban.

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

A summit of religious leaders from a dozen African nations met in Nouakchott on 12 December and called for the harshest punishments permitted by Islam to be meted out "against those who insult the name of the prophet".   (AFP)

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