January 30, 2017

Haratin: Upcoming Final Verdict on Execution of Blogger for Criticism of Slavery

Photo courtesy of the Committee to Protect Journalists

Tomorrow, on 31 January 2016, the Supreme Court of Mauritania is expected to deliver a final ruling in the case of Mohamed Cheikh Mkhaitir. The Mauritanian blogger faces death penalty on charges of apostasy, after he criticised the use of religion to justify state racism and slavery – a system under which many Haratin today are still enslaved. Mkhaitir would be the first person to be executed by the Islamic Republic of Mauritania since 1987. Biram Dah Abeid, leader of the antislavery movement in Mauritania, has also voiced his support for Mkhaitir and his criticism of the caste system.

The article below was published by the Africa Times:

A final ruling is expected next week in the case of a Mauritanian blogger who faces execution on apostasy charges – a verdict that has now been postponed twice because of unrest surrounding the case.

The Supreme Court of Mauritania is now expected to deliver a ruling on January 31, said the Human Rights Watch organization in a news release sent this week that appealed again for charges against Mohammed Ould Mkhaitir to be dropped.

The case has drawn international attention to the Islamic Republic, where Mkhaitir was arrested in 2014 on blasphemy charges after publishing a piece on a Mauritanian website. It criticized religion when wielded as a weapon to perpetuate caste-system social injustice in Mauritania – essentially, the nation’s modern-day slavery.

Mohamed was sentenced to death a year ago, amid angry protests by both those calling for his execution and those who wished to defend human rights and free speech. His appeal was scheduled for November 15, but two days before that, Islamic authorities issued fatwas calling for his death.

Thousands of protesters again took to the streets decrying Mkhaitir, so the court – fearing for its own safety, as well as that of Mkhaitir and the legal counsel – postponed the final decision to December.

That hearing too was delayed, and the young Mauritanian’s attorneys say he cannot get meaningful justice in the cultural climate of outrage.

“The public outcry and danger of violence threaten the judiciary’s independence and hinder the Supreme Court’s ability to safeguard his due process rights,” said Freedom Now in a letter sent on November 28 to an official with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The Freedom Now organization provides legal counsel to Mkhaitir along with his local lawyers, three of whom have quit during the proceedings because of death threats. The team is joined by Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and other rights groups who have appealed to President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz on the blogger’s behalf without success.

Aziz has told Mauritanians that media content must respect Islam, and the government “will do everything that is necessary to protect the Islamic religion and to defend the Messenger of Allah.”

Mauritania has renewed its arrest of anti-slavery activists, in a nation where tougher anti-slavery measures were enacted in 2015, but the rate continues to be one of the highest in the world, according to the Global Slavery Index.

Its deep roots in a caste-system culture influenced by religion are what Mkhaitir’s article sought to address; despite the new laws, Mauritania still is not enforcing them effectively, the GSI said.