Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed, a blogger and freelance journalist, was sentenced to death on apostasy charges on December 24, 2014, according to news reports. He was arrested almost a year earlier, on January 2, 2014, at his home in the city of Nouadhibou in connection with an article he wrote that was published on the news website Aqlame on December 31, 2013.
The article for which he was arrested, called "Religion, religiosity and craftsmen," criticized Mauritania’s caste system, an extremely delicate subject, and said that followers of Islam interpreted the religion according to circumstance, Reuters reported. Mohamed has frequently written articles for news websites that criticize Islamic religious beliefs and conservative practices in Mauritania.
The editor of Aqlame, Riad Ould Ahmed, took down the article from the website and issued a statement on January 4, 2014, saying it had been posted accidentally. Mohamed has repented several times.
A few days after the death sentence was issued, Mauritania’s ambassador to the United Nations said in reply to a statement by the International Humanist and Ethical Union that Mohamed had been imprisoned for his own safety in addition to violating the country’s laws.
Local news reports said the trial was attended by several religious leaders who insisted on monitoring the proceedings to ensure Shariah law was carried out. When the defendant was brought to court, some in the crowd celebrated by cheering "Allahu Akbar," the reports said. After the 48-hour trial ended with the death sentence, crowds appeared on the streets to celebrate the verdict.
The appeals court referred the case to Mauritania’s Supreme Court, which has the power to repeal the sentence, reports said. Under article 306 in the Mauritanian penal code, under which Mohamed was charged, if the Supreme Court rules that a defendant is repentant, it can reduce the sentence to up to two years in jail and up to 60,000 Mauritanian ouguiya (US$173).
On March 24, 2017, the Supreme Court accepted Mohamed’s appeal and ordered his retrial, his sister Ayecha told CPJ and local media reported. A Nouadhibou court of appeals on November 9, 2017, reduced the sentence against Mohamed to two years in prison and ordered him to pay a fine of 60,000 Mauritanian ouguiya (US$172), according to news reports. Having served more than three years in prison, the blogger was scheduled to be released, but has remained in custody, according to his sister Ayecha Mint Cheikh and a press statement from the justice minister, Ibrahim Ould Daddah.
The blogger’s family has had limited contact with him since the court reduced his sentence, his sister told CPJ in late 2018. She said Mohamed’s health deteriorated in detention, citing acute pain in addition to psychological distress. The blogger’s sister was able to visit him in 2018, but did not wish to publicly disclose his whereabouts, fearing retribution.
In May 2018, Mauritanian authorities told the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination that Mohamed was in “administrative detention for his own safety,” Human Rights Watch reported in November 2018.
In a Facebook post and an interview in June 2018, Mohamed Ould Moine, the blogger’s lawyer, said doctors who saw the journalist requested his hospitalization, but officials refused. Moine said he was not made aware of his diagnosis, though he describes the journalist’s health situation as “very alarming.”
In November 2018, CPJ and 30 other press freedom and human rights organizations published a joint appeal calling on Mauritanian authorities to immediately release Mohamed. As of late 2018, CPJ has not received a response from the authorities.