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Mauritania 'blasphemy' blogger says he saw the sun six times during five-year detention

Mkheitir was sentenced to death for blasphemy in December 2014 [Getty]

Date of publication: 7 August, 2019

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A Mauritanian blogger released last week after more than five years in jail has said he only "saw the sun six times" during his incarceration over blasphemy charges.

A Mauritanian blogger released last week after more than five years in jail has said he only "saw the sun six times" during his five-year incarceration over blasphemy charges.

Cheikh Ould Mohamed Ould Mkheitir, who is now living in an unspecified European country, told rights group Amnesty International about his ordeal in prison.

"Without your efforts, I would not have been released. During five years in prison, I just saw the sun six times," the 36-year-old said on Monday.

"So much has changed over the past five years and I am still adjusting to life outside of prison. Now I am free, my hope is to resume my education and return to school."

Mkheitir had garnered international support during his years in prison since he was initially sentenced to death in 2014 - later commuted to a jail term - over a blog post that discussed slavery in the conservative Saharan nation.

He remained locked up despite having already served the sentence, but was finally released on 29 July and immediately left the country.

Amnesty called on Mauritania's new president Mohamed Ould Cheikh El-Ghazouani to change the law.

The group has previously called for Mauritania's new president to take more action to protect human rights defenders and end slavery, which persists in Mauritania despite its official abolition in 1981.

Mkheitir was sentenced to death for blasphemy in December 2014 after he wrote a blog that challenged decisions taken by the Prophet Muhammed and his companions during holy wars in the seventh century.

He repented after being given that sentence, prompting an appeal court on November 2017 to downgrade the punishment to a two-year jail term - a decision that sparked protests.

Relatives of Mkheitir said his parents, fearing for their lives, had sold their possessions in Mauritania in late 2016 and left for France via Senegal.

The French foreign ministry declined to comment on whether it was possible that Mkheitir might join them there.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has described Mkheitir as "francophone Africa's longest-held citizen-journalist".

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