Mauritanian Journalist Sentenced To Death Over Blasphemy Charges

Mauritanian journalist Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir, who was arrested last year for “insulting the prophet,” has been sentenced to death on Christmas Day.

Reuters reports that the journalist, 28, was accused of blasphemy after writing an article about Prophet Muhammad and the caste system. Last week, prosecutors called for the execution of Mkhaitir in accordance to Islamic Sharia law, with recommendations that he be executed by gunfire. Mkhaitir, who also goes by the name Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed, says his article was misinterpreted.

His death sentence comes after news of anti-slavery activist and former presidential candidate Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeiday’s arrest attracted international media attention. Abeiday and his colleagues face up to five years in prison for “inciting violence, disrupting public order, contempt for authorities and membership of a non-recognized organization.”

Blasphemy is incredibly frowned upon in many Islamic and religious nations. Recently, actress Veena Malik has been sentenced to 26 years in prison after being involved in a show that portrayed people dancing to a religious song. BBC reports that the actress has since denied charges.

Perhaps the most infamous case of reaction to religious sleights was when Salman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses attracted violent response from people in Islamic countries. During the peak of the controversy, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeinei issued a fatwa against the author. Multiple assassination attempts against him has led to his hiding. People involved in his work, including Japanese scholar and translator Hitoshi Iragashi, have died due to their connection to his work.

Mauritania, an impoverished Saharan country located near West Africa, has been struggling with human rights issues for decades already. The country was the last worldwide to abolish slavery. However, they still maintain one of the highest instances of forced labor in the world. Child labor and forced female genitalia mutilations are also lingering human rights concerns in the country. Many human rights group have already appealed to international bodies for intervention on grounds of continued human rights abuse in the country.

Despite being the center of education during Africa’s golden age, modern Mauritanians are one of the least educated people in the world. Literacy rates are around 17 percent to 25 percent, one of the worst statistics in the world.

[Image from Wikimedia]