AU rights group urges Mauritania 'review' blasphemy law

The African Union's human rights body has called on Mauritania to "review" a draft law that applies the death penalty for blasphemy as global outrage grows over the imprisonment of a young blogger.

Cheikh Ould Mohamed Ould Mkheitir has been detained for more than four years despite his death penalty being downgraded to a two-year sentence in November.

The decision by an appeals court to spare Mkheitir's life, which caused clashes and outrage in the conservative Muslim nation, came after he repented for charges of insulting the Prophet Muhammad in a blog post.

Later in November the government moved to harden up religious laws so that showing repentance for blasphemy and apostasy could no longer prevent the death penalty.

But the text of the bill has not yet been promulgated by President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, without official explanation.

The head of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, Soyata Maiga, called on the government to reconsider the bill in the capital Nouakchott on Wednesday.

"The African commission uses the occasion of its current session in Mauritania to urge the highest authorities to review this legislation," she said.

"This review must be done in accordance with the guidelines and efforts of the African commission's working group on the death penalty and extrajudicial killings in Africa."

The African Union-backed group, whose decisions are not binding, advocates for the death penalty to be abolished.

Mauritanian authorities have not commented on Mkheitir's fate since November.

Some 20 NGOs have since asked the country's authorities to end the "secrecy" and guarantee the safety of the blogger, who is in his thirties.

The case contributed to Mauritania falling 17 spots in Reporters Without Borders' 2018 World Press Freedom Index, the biggest drop of any African nation.

The death sentence has not been applied in Mauritania since 1987.

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