This letter was sent by the International Publishers Association and additional signatories, including Freedom Now, to the Mauritanian authorities in their respective countries.
Dear Ambassador Yamar,
I write to express the serious concern of the International Publishers Association and our partners listed below for the life and wellbeing of Mauritanian citizen Mohammed Shaikh Ould Mohammed Ould Mkhaitir, a blogger currently facing a death sentence on a conviction for apostasy. We urge your government to do everything in its power to secure Mr Mkhaitir’s release.
As you may be aware, the Supreme Court of Mauritania was initially scheduled to deliver a final ruling in Mr Mkhaitir’s case on November 15, 2016. However, the decision was delayed until January 31, 2017, when the Supreme Court determined that there had been irregularities in the Court of Appeals process, an assessment that echoed Mr Mkhaitir’s own defense.
Yet, rather than overturn Mr Mkhaitir’s death sentence, the Supreme Court returned the matter to the Court of Appeals for re-examination. While Mr Mkhaitir’s case is continually delayed and shifted throughout the court system, Mr Mkhaitir remains incarcerated in poor conditions and in poor health.
Both international law and Article 10 of the Mauritanian Constitution guarantee to Mr Mkhaitir the right to freely express himself. Nonetheless, Mr Mkhaitir has sincerely apologized several times, sought forgiveness and denied any intent to insult the Prophet Mohamed (PBUH).
Article 306 of Mauritania’s Penal Code gives the Supreme Court power to cancel or commute his sentence to a maximum of two years in jail and up to 60,000 ouguiya (US$173) if it determines that he has sincerely repented. We recognize that there is significant domestic pressure to punish Mr Mkhaitir for his perceived insult to the Prophet Mohamed (PBUH), however, given Mr Mkhaitir’s sincere repentance and his right to free expression, we ask that the courts afford Mr Mkhaitir his due process rights, acknowledge his repentance and order his release, in accordance with international and domestic law.
The Mauritanian government has eschewed capital punishment for over 30 years; we implore you not to mar this record by taking the irreparable step to recommence state executions now, especially by killing a contrite man whose plight has been the focus of human rights defenders and governments the world over.
We therefore urge the government of Mauritania to ensure that public pressure does not influence the decision of the judiciary in Mr Mkhaitir’s appeal and that Mr Mkhaitir’s rights to due process and free expression under Mauritanian law and international law are upheld. We also encourage the President of Mauritania to pardon Mr Mkhaitir and ensure his safe release from prison.
Dr Michiel Kolman
President, International Publishers Association
Federation of European Publishers (FEP)
European & International Booksellers Federation (EIBF)
Deutschen Buchhandels e.V. (German Publishers and Booksellers Association)
Index on Censorship
International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU)