Appeal begins for Mauritanian sentenced over blasphemy
A Mauritanian court on Wednesday began hearing an appeal into a blogger sentenced to death over an article deemed insulting to the Prophet Mohammed, a case that has spurred protests from rights watchdogs.
Cheikh Ould Mohamed Ould Mkheitir was convicted of apostasy and sentenced to death in 2014 before the supreme court sent his case back to appeal in 2016.
The large audience in the court in the northwest town Nouadhibou was under strict surveillance with cameras, mobile phones and laptops banned, a judicial source told AFP.
Mkheitir, a Muslim in his 30s who is also known as Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed, 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".
It is not yet known how long the trial will last or when the verdict will be announced.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Tuesday again called for the case to be thrown out.
The defendant is a "prisoner of conscience, detained for three years solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression and speaking out against discrimination," HRW said in a statement.
On January 31, thousands protested in the deeply conservative Islamic country when the death sentence was overturned.
The article allegedly challenged decisions taken by the Prophet Mohammed and his companions during holy wars in the seventh century.
Mkheitir's article also attacked the mistreatment of the country's black population, blasting "an iniquitous social order" with an underclass that was "marginalised and discriminated against from birth", and to which he belongs.
Many Mauritanians live below the poverty line while there is huge disparity between the Arabised moorish elites and the country's black population.
Capital punishment is usually reserved for murder and acts of terrorism. According to Amnesty International, Mauritania last executed a prisoner in 1987.