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Rights Groups Call for Release of Mauritanian Blogger

A coalition of 24 human rights and civil society groups say Mauritanian authorities should pardon a young blogger who was sentenced to death for apostasy in December. The blogger was convicted over an op-ed he wrote criticizing the use of Islam to prop up the country's caste system.

Mohamed Mkhaïtir is the first person in Mauritania to have been sentenced to death for apostasy.

During his trial, the judge told the blogger, 29, that his crime was “speaking lightly” of the Prophet Mohammed in an online article.

Mkhaïtir told the court that was not his intention and repented. The law against apostasy provides for leniency if the accused repents. The blogger is filing an appeal. The Supreme Court could pardon him.

Amnesty International is among the two dozen local and international organizations calling for Mkhaïtir's immediate and unconditional release.

Amnesty West Africa Campaigner Kine Fatim Diop said it should not be a crime to think freely or write an article peacefully expressing your opinion. She said that was why they would continue to put pressure on Mauritanian authorities to release him.

Apostasy means to renounce your faith. Amnesty said criminalizing it violates international law. The United Nations Human Rights Committee called on Mauritania to strike the provision from its penal code in 2013. Mauritania is West Africa’s only Islamic republic.

Mkhaïtir’s article sparked nationwide protests when it was posted briefly online in January 2014. Many cheered the verdict against him.

Amnesty said this case was part of a broader assault on the freedom of expression in Mauritania. Three anti-slavery activists were sentenced to two-year prison terms after police broke up a meeting in November. They are also appealing their sentences.