Rights groups call for release of Mauritania blasphemy blogger
A coalition of rights groups have called for the release of a Mauritanian blogger due to be freed a month ago, after his death sentence for blasphemy was downgraded.
Cheikh Ould Mohamed Ould Mkheitir was given a two-year term on November 9 after he repented for charges of insulting the Prophet Muhammad in a blog post, and should have left jail because of the time he had already served.
Rights groups including Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders and Human Rights Watch wrote an open letter to President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz on Thursday calling on him to ensure that Mkheitir "regains his freedom since he has served his sentence".
Mkheitir was accused of challenging decisions taken by the Prophet Mohammed and his companions during holy wars in the seventh century.
He 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.
Modern-day slavery in Mauritania, under a hereditary system of servitude, forces members of the "slave" caste to work without pay as cattle herders and domestic servants, despite an official ban.
The groups also urged the authorities "to take steps to guarantee Mohamed's safety upon his release" as protests calling for the blogger's death have rocked Mauritania several times during court proceedings.
Mkheitir remains in custody but his family do not know where he is being held, they told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
A new bill designed to stop repentance from providing a way to avoid the death penalty in blasphemy and apostasy cases is now under consideration.