A Mauritanian blogger who had been sentenced to death for comments deemed as blasphemous by authorities is once again a free man.
Mohamed Ould Cheikh ould Mkhaitir’s release comes two days before the inauguration of the country’s new president, Mohamed Ould Ghazouani.
Mkhaitir was arrested in 2014 and charged with apostasy over a Facebook post that condemned the use of religion to justify discrimination against his caste. It was the first death sentence handed down for apostasy in Mauritania since the African nation’s independence in 1960.
Despite calls by demonstrated that he be executed, in 2017 an appeals court reduced Mkahtir’s sentence to a fine and to two years in prison after the supreme court said it accepted his repentance. While the blogger had already served the time, he was held in detention until now.
Mkhatir’s attorney, Mohamed ould Moine said Mkhatir was being transferred to a destination outside the country, likely for his security. The lawyer said he did not have details about the final destination and that the government had arranged the voyage “under a total blackout.”
Human rights activists applauded the country’s decision to free Mkhatir.
“By freeing Mkhaitir three days before stepping down as president, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz has addressed one of the most heinous injustices of his 10-year tenure,” Lama Fakih, acting Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.