Washington, D.C. – On March 11, 2020, the global law firm Dechert LLP was presented with the Pro Bono Award at the 2020 LexisNexis Legal Awards. The award is for the firm’s pro bono work with Freedom Now on the case of Mohammed Ould Mkhaitir, a Mauritanian blogger sentenced to death for apostasy.
“We are delighted that Dechert LLP was recognized for its pro bono contributions and commitment to human rights,” said Freedom Now Executive Director Maran Turner. “The firm was a key partner in crafting a legal and advocacy strategy that placed considerable pressure on the Mauritanian government to release Mohammed Ould Mkhaitir from wrongful detention.”
Mohammed Mkhaitir was arrested in Mauritania in January 2014. He was sentenced to execution by firing squad after publishing a blog post criticizing religious justification for slavery, a practice that is still prevalent in his home country. An appeal court struck down his death sentence in November 2017, commuting it to two years. However, as soon as the verdict was read, rancorous protests broke out in the court room, calling for Mkhaitir’s death. Mkhaitir, his lawyers, and the judges were escorted out of the building under police protection. The government placed Mkhaitir in “administrative detention” in an unknown location, ostensibly for his own safety, but with extremely limited communication with the outside world. He was kept in a house for 24 hours a day as his health and mental state worsened. He was finally released from detention in July 2019 and relocated to France where he lives safely today.
Dechert LLP filed a petition with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of Mkhaitir in May 2016. In June 2017, the Working Group found his detention to be arbitrary and called for Mauritania to immediately release him. In addition to providing legal expertise, Dechert’s cross-border team was instrumental in contacting government officials in France to increase international pressure to release Mkhaitir.