NEW YORK—PEN America welcomes the release of​ blogger Mohammed Shaikh Ould Mohammed Ould Mkhaitir in Mauritania after more than three years behind bars. Mkhaitir was condemned to death in 2014 for apostasy.​ The charges against him​ stemmed from a Facebook post in which he criticized the use of religion as a means to justify ethnic and caste discrimination in Mauritania. The Court of Appeals in Nouadhibou reviewed the case on November 8, 2017,​ and sentenced Mkhaitir to two years in prison and a fine of 169.45 dollars. Because Mkhaitir has already served nearly four years in prison, the court ruled that he should be released. He was freed the following day.

“We are delighted by this victory for justice and free expression” said Karin Karlekar, Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “Mkhaitir’s release is long overdue, and we now urge authorities to provide him with adequate security given the sensitive nature of the case.”

The Supreme Court of Mauritania initially had been scheduled to deliver a final ruling in Mkhaitir’s case on November 15, 2016, but the decision was delayed until January 31, 2017, when the Supreme Court determined that there had been irregularities in the Court of Appeals process. Rather than overturn Mkhaitir’s death sentence, the Supreme Court returned the matter to the Court of Appeals for re-examination. In March, PEN America joined nine other human rights organizations to urge the government of Mauritania to ensure that public pressure to uphold the death sentence would not influence the decision of the judiciary in Mkhaitir’s appeal, and that Mkhaitir’s rights to due process and free expression under Mauritanian law and international law would be upheld.

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