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UN experts urge immediate release of detained Mauritanian blogger

French

GENEVA (8 May 2018) – A group of UN human rights experts* have expressed grave concerns about the continued detention of Mauritanian blogger Cheikh Ould Mohamed M’kheitir on charges which violated his human rights.

Mr. M'kheitir remains in detention, despite being eligible for release on time-served, at an unofficial location reportedly due to concerns for his safety. There are concerns that his conditions of detention have seriously affected his health.

“We have been repeatedly in contact with the Government of Mauritania and are calling on them to release him from arbitrary detention and ensure his safety,” the experts said. “It is a matter of grave concern that this young man has now been in detention for four years.

“The charges against him and the previous death sentence for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of conscience and expression clearly contravene international human rights law and the international conventions ratified by Mauritania.”

Mr. M’kheitir was arrested on 2 January 2014 and sentenced to death for apostasy in December 2014 after publishing an article online questioning the use of religious justification to legitimise caste discrimination. On 9 November 2017, the Court of Appeals in Nouadhibou quashed his death sentence and commuted it to two years in prison and a fine for blasphemy, rendering him eligible for immediate release on time served. The following day the Prosecutor General appealed the ruling.

“Following the Prosecutor’s appeal against the Appeal Court’s decision, it is not clear whether or when the case will be considered by the Supreme Court. In any case, we urge that the Mauritanian government comply without delay with the finding of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention,” the experts added.

It is incompatible with international human rights law to criminalise apostasy. The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention adopted an Opinion in April in 2017 calling for Mr. M’kheitir’s immediate release and stating his right to seek compensation.

The experts concerns are heightened by the recent amendment of article 306 of the Penal code that reportedly mandates the death penalty for Muslims considered guilty of apostasy.

The experts have written to the Mauritanian Government about the case, received responses to their letters and are waiting for the government to take further action.

ENDS

*The UN experts: Mr. Seong-Phil Hong, currentChair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Ms. Karima Bennoune, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; Ms. Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executionsMr. Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defendersMr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For inquiries and media requests, please contact Johanne Bouchard (+41 22 917 9630 / jbouchard@ohchr.org).

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Jeremy Laurence – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9826 / jlaurence@ohchr.org 

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rights: www.standup4humanrights.org.