Mauritanians protest in favour of 'infidel' blogger execution
AFP, , Tuesday 15 Nov 2016

Hundreds protested Tuesday in Mauritania calling for a blogger convicted of "infidel" behaviour to be executed, as the supreme court considered if his death sentence should be carried out.

Cheikh Ould Mohamed Ould Mkheitir was initially sentenced to death for apostasy in 2014 over a blog post deemed insulting to the Prophet Mohammed.

Though his crime was downgraded by an appeal court, the accompanying death sentence was not lifted.

Demonstrators gathered as the supreme court sat to examine whether he should be executed or pardoned, with his lawyers emphasising his "unequivocal remorse".

Protester Ahmed Ould Hassen, who held a banner reading "friends of the prophet", told AFP: "The prophet is no longer among us to accept or refuse his apology, but we must therefore defend him by applying the law to this offender."

The activists followed the call of Muslim leaders who on Sunday declared a "fatwa" that Mkheitir be put to death, and who organised Tuesday's demonstration.

A defence lawyer told AFP the court had examined Mkheitir's case and would deliver its decision on December 20.

Mkheitir's article was deemed blasphemous, but had also attacked "an iniquitous social order" in Mauritania, with an underclass descended from slaves that was "marginalised and discriminated against from birth".

It provoked outrage and drew tens of thousands of protestors outside the presidential palace in Nouakchott.

Modern-day slavery under a hereditary system of servitude forces members of the "slave" caste to work without pay as cattle herders and domestic servants, despite an official ban.

Many Mauritanians live below the poverty line while there is huge disparity between the Arabised moorish elites and the country's black population.

Capital punishment is usually reserved for murder and acts of terrorism. According to Amnesty International, Mauritania last executed a prisoner in 1987.

Reporters without Borders (RSF) called on the government to secure Mkheitir's release and guarantee his safety following threats from preachers.

"We ask you to acknowledge his repentance and ensure his safe release from prison," the press freedom group said in an open letter to President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.