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Mauritania must quash the death sentence handed down to a blogger for apostasy and release him unconditionally, Amnesty International said today, ahead of his appeal court hearing in the south-western city of Nouadhibou tomorrow.

Mohamed Mkhaïtir, 33, was sentenced to death in December 2014, after a year in pre-trial detention, for writing a blog that criticized those who use Islam to discriminate against certain groups in the society. It is the first time the death sentence has been imposed for apostasy in Mauritania since the country gained independence in 1960.

“The death penalty should not be used in any circumstances, the sentencing of Mohamed Mkhaïtir to death for writing a blog that criticized those who use religion to discriminate is unjust and it shows how far the Mauritanian authorities will go to try and stamp out dissent’’, said Gaetan Mootoo, Amnesty International West Africa researcher.

“The Mauritanian authorities must quash the death sentence and immediately and unconditionally release him.”

Mohamed Mkhaïtir is a prisoner of conscience, jailed solely for the peaceful expression of his right to freedom of expression. Amnesty International considers the use of penal sanctions to compel religious belief is a violation of international human rights law, particularly the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to which Mauritania is state party.

The organization opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime. The death penalty violates the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and it is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.