NOUAKCHOTT – A Mauritanian blogger who had been sentenced to death over an article deemed as insulting to prophet Mohamed has been released and he has left the country after a pardon following a five-year prison stay, a police official said on Tuesday.
Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir left the country late Monday through the Senegal River, a police official in the southern Mauritanian border town of Ross told EFE.
The blogger was escorted by police officers as he crossed the river, a natural border between Mauritania and Senegal, the source, speaking on condition of anonymity, added.
Mkhaitir’s release was widely expected a while ago as the 35-year-old was sentenced in a new trial to two years in prison, which he had already served by 2016.
However, he remained in jail, a measure Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz has recently said it was due to an “administrative order” issued on security grounds.
The case dates back to early 2014, when the blogger was arrested for publishing an article entitled “Religion, religious practice and blacksmiths” in late 2013 on his blog.
Born into a family of blacksmiths himself, Mkhaitir pointed out that the discrimination they suffered was not something new as it was practiced during the time of prophet Mohamed, who allegedly tolerated it.
His claim triggered a wave of unprecedented rallies across the country, calling for his execution.
Once apprehended, Mkhaitir was tried over apostasy charges and was sentenced to death in the first instance in December 2014.
The sentence, then, was upheld in April 2016 after he filed an appeal.
The Supreme Court, however, ordered the appeal process to be repeated in wake of the repentance Mkhaitir showed before the judges.
Despite rallies and calls by some religious leaders for his execution, the appeal court overturned the rule in November 2017 and sentenced him to only two years in prison, which he had served it already, and fined him.
The verdict, however, added fuel to the fire as angry protesters took to the streets, with death threats to Mkhaitir.
Mauritania’s Grand Mufti Ahmedou Ould Habibu Rahman pointed out that the Maleki sect that the African country follows states leniency for those who regret their actions.
Meanwhile, sociologist Ichemkhou Ould Eleyou told EFE “Our ulemas, judges and magnets must resist the populist pressures originated from their ignorance of the sacred text and conveyed by malicious social networks.”
The pressure was such that the government decided to keep Mkhaitir in prison after serving his sentence.
Feeling threatened, his family secretly left the country.
A few days before his release, the blogger appeared on the state-run Al-Mouritaniye TV to regret his action as he did once again during a session attended by the country’s religious leaders and was broadcasted.