GENEVA (June 18, 2019) – A UN group of human rights experts has expressed deep concern over the prolonged arbitrary detention and health of Mauritanian blogger and human rights defender Sheikh Ould Mohamed M’Kheitir.

“We call on the Government of Mauritania to release Mr. M’Kheitir in accordance with his international obligations and the recommendations of the United Nations human rights mechanisms.”

Mr. M’Kheitir was sentenced to death for apostasy in December 2014 after publishing an online article questioning the use of religious justifications to legitimize caste discrimination. On 9 November 2017, the Nouadhibou Court of Appeal overturned his death sentence and sentenced him to two years in prison and a fine, making him eligible for immediate release given his time in prison.

Refusing to implement the Court of Appeal’s decision, however, the Government decided to place him in administrative detention in a place unknown to the public, without access to his lawyers, for public policy reasons and for allegedly ensuring security Mr. M’Kheitir’s physical condition. The prosecutor of the republic has also appealed the decision to the Supreme Court but there is no indication that the Court will consider this case in the near future.

“It is of great concern that Mr. M’Kheitir has already been detained for four years and that, in defiance of the Court of Appeal’s decision, administrative detention is now seen as the only way to ensure his security and public order by Mauritania, which should not be the case in a rule of law,” the experts added, indicating that it is imperative for Mr. M’Kheitir to have access to his lawyers.

“This prolonged detention for the peaceful exercise of its rights to freedom of conscience and expression is at odds with international human rights standards and international conventions ratified by Mauritania, and violates its fundamental rights,” the experts said.

Credible reports indicate that Mr. M’Kheitir’s health has deteriorated significantly since he was in administrative detention and in a place unknown to the public more than a year ago.

“The damage to M’Kheitir’s physical and mental integrity makes his release or medical evacuation very urgent so that he can access adequate medical treatment,” the experts concluded.

The experts said they had written to the Mauritanian government about Mr. M’Kheitir’s situation and received responses to their letters.

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