Lawyers appeal death sentence in Mauritania blasphemy case

NOUAKCHOTT (AFP) - Lawyers for a Mauritanian man condemned to death for apostasy on Friday are to challenge his conviction for writing an article deemed blasphemous of Islam.

Crowds took to the streets to celebrate the death penalty handed down to Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed, 29, who allegedly challenged some decisions taken by the Prophet Mohammed and his companions in an article that briefly appeared on several websites.

Mohamed had vehemently denied the charge, according to a judicial source, and said it was "not his intention to harm the Prophet". Mohamed fainted as the verdict was passed.

His lawyers claim judges did not take his repentance into account when passing sentence in Nouadhibou in the northwest of the country.

He is the first person to be condemned to death for apostasy in Mauritania since independence from France in 1960.

The Islamic republic upholds strict Islamic law known as Sharia. But it has not meted out the harshest punishments, such as executions and floggings, for nearly three decades.

Mohamed had claimed that he was not criticising the Prophet but "an iniquitous social order" in Mauritania, with the blacksmith caste to which he belongs treated as an underclass that was "marginalised and discriminated against from birth".

The northwest African country last executed a prisoner in 1987, according to Amnesty International.

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