News

June 21, 2019

Outgoing Mauritanian president urged to free blogger before handing over

The blogger Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaïtir was sentenced to death in 2014 for apostasy
On the eve of tomorrow’s presidential election in Mauritania, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and 11 other NGOs are publishing an open letter to President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who is constitutionally barred from running for a third term, urging him to free an imprisoned blogger before handing over to the new president in five weeks’ time.

Will President Aziz use his presidential prerogatives to end the ordeal of Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed Mkhaitir, a citizen-journalist and blogger who has been held for the past five and a half years and who, under Mauritanian law, should have been freed more than 18 months ago?


After his arrest in January 2014, Mkhaitir was initially sentenced to death for a blog post criticizing the use of religion to justify discriminatory practices against the blacksmith caste to which he belongs. The death sentence was commuted to two years in prison in November 2017, at which point he should have been freed.


Instead Mkhaitir has been held ever since in solitary confinement in an undisclosed location and has not been allowed to receive visits from his lawyers.


“There can be no justification for holding this blogger in defiance of the decisions issued by the Mauritanian justice system itself,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “Mauritania’s president should use his final weeks in office to end Mohamed Mkhaitir’s illegal detention, so that it does not tarnish the memory of his 11 years as the country’s leader.”


President Aziz is due to hand over on 1 August to the winner of tomorrow’s election or a possible second round on 6 July.


RSF recently reported that two other bloggers had been arrested for reposting international news stories reporting that the authorities in the United Arab Emirates had frozen a large sum of money deposited in an account there by relatives of President Aziz. The two bloggers were finally freed on 3 June after being held for two and a half months


Mauritania is ranked 94th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index, after falling 22 places, one of this year’s biggest falls.


See below the joint letter signed by RSF and 11 other human rights organizations.