NEW YORK—The release of Mauritanian Facebook blogger Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir, after having been jailed more than five years for “blasphemy,” is a long overdue victory for free expression, PEN America said today. 

In January 2014, Mkhaitir wrote a post criticizing the misuse of Islam to justify slavery and discrimination in Mauritania, which led to public protests calling for his execution. After nearly a year of pretrial detention, in December 2014 a lower court sentenced him to death for blasphemy and apostasy, but the charges were reclassified in 2016, and in November 2017 an appeals court reduced his sentence to two and a half years in prison, time he had already served. However, instead of being released, Mkhaitir was then kept in solitary confinement in an undisclosed location, only able to receive sporadic visits despite several serious health conditions. On July 29, 2019, three days before the sitting President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz was due to step down, the blogger was released and directly moved out of the country due to concerns for his personal safety. 

“The conviction and lengthy imprisonment of Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir was unjust from the very start and it is promising to see that the outgoing government made the decision to finally right this wrong,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “For someone who simply made a social media post expressing their personal opinion, Mkhaitir has suffered grossly disproportionate consequences. We are relieved that he is finally free and we urge Mauritanian authorities not to penalize individuals for their legitimate expression going forward.” 

The imprisonment of Mkhaitir has been an ongoing concern with regard to Mauritania’s human rights record, and for the past several years a coalition of free expression and human rights groups have been advocating for his release. Most recently, in June 2019 PEN America and 11 other organizations sent a joint letter urging the current president to take necessary action on the issue and ensure Mkhaitir’s release ahead of the upcoming presidential election.


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT: Stephen Fee, Director of Communications, [email protected], +1 202 309 8892