Mauritania: Blogger released, another arrested

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) welcomes the release of Mauritanian blogger, Hamda Ould Oubeidallah after 6 months’ imprisonment and strongly condemns the arrest of blogger Mohamed Yacoub.

Convicted on charges of “insult, defamation and incitement via social networks”, blogger Hamda Ould Oubeidallah was thrown in the central prison in Nouadhibou on October 26, 2021, for posting a series of live videos critical of government policies on his Facebook page. The blogger was finally released in April 2022 after 6 months in prison.

However, the relief over Ould Oubeidallah’s arrest was a month later tempered with the arrest of another critical blogger and whistle-blower Mohamed Ould Yacoub. The police arrested the social media activist in May 2022 following a complaint from the Mauritanian Investment Bank (BMI).

In a Facebook post, the blogger had denounced and drawn attention to the misfortune of one of his friends who claimed to have found 1000 ouguiyas counterfeit notes among 400,000 old ouguiyas that he had withdrawn from the bank. Ould Yacoub explained in the publication that when his friend went to the bank to report the counterfeit notes and ask for them to be replaced, they rejected his request without giving any justification.

Ould Yacoub maintains that his publication “is not an accusation of bank forgery, but rather just proof of a case.”

The MFWA strongly condemns the arrest of blogger Mohamed Ould Yacoub as a suspect. The blogger’s publication merely raised an issue and so he should be considered as a whistle-blower and a witness in the investigations, rather than a suspect. We urge the authorities to drop all charges against the blogger and release him, while they instigate the allegations.

Mauritania has acquired a dubious reputation for arresting and detaining activists and journalists for social media publications. On May 8, 2021, the police station in Arafat 1 (a southern suburb of the capital, Nouakchott) summoned activist Mohamed Abdellahi Ould Bounena after he posted a story on his Facebook page about an alleged murder which he later retracted.

A few weeks earlier (April 24, 2021), journalist Abdellahi Mohamed Ould Atigh was arrested and held for 48 hours at the Boutilimitt police station, following a complaint from the Minister of Social Affairs, Children and the Family. The journalist was arrested on the grounds of defamation and spreading false information on social networks after he questioned the lack of transparency in the disbursement of funds intended to support economically vulnerable people affected by COVID-19.

While it is important to combat misinformation on social media, it must be done in a way that does not intimidate and censor social media users.  We, therefore, urge the Mauritanian authorities to uphold freedom of expression and put an end to the suppression of critical voices.

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