The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) and its Partner Organisation in Mauritania, Regroupement de la Presse Mauritanienne (RPM) have jointly petitioned Mauritanian President Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz to take steps to end a recent wave of press freedom and other human rights violations in Mauritania.
In the petition dated December 10, 2017 to coincide with the International Human Rights Day, the MFWA and RPM expressed serious concern about the persecution of four senior journalists from various independent and critical media organisations over the past three months.
The affected journalists were summoned and interrogated by the Economic Crimes Department of the Mauritanian Police on August 25, 2017. The authorities questioned them about the motives of their articles that criticised the government. The police also asked about their media organisations’ sources of funding. The passports of the journalists have also been seized and they have been forbidden from leaving the capital Nouakchott since August. They also have since their interrogation been reporting every Monday to the Directorate General of National Security.
The petition said these actions reflect a resolute will to stifle critical journalism in the country and cited a directive issued by the Mauritanian Prime Minister in February 2016 prohibiting all state institutions and public enterprises from placing advertisement or taking subscriptions in private newspapers.
“This measure was clearly intended to economically suffocate the private media out of operation,” the petition said.
The MFWA and RPM also expressed concern about the continued detention of a Mauritanian citizen and blogger, Cheikh Mohammed Ould M’kheitir whose 2014 death sentence was recently overturned on appeal. The petitioners expressed alarm at the amendment of Mauritania’s penal code regarding blasphemy immediately after ruling and the government’s decision to appeal the judgment. The petition therefore reminded President Abdel Aziz to ensure that the amended law is not applied retroactively, as this is “frowned upon as a travesty of justice in all jurisdictions and under all human rights instruments.”
kindly read the full petition below.
December 10, 2017
President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz
Islamic Republic of Mauritania
Ministère du Secrétariat Général à la Présidence
B.P.184 Nouakchott, Mauritania
Petition over Freedom of Expression and Human Rights Violations in Mauritania
On the occasion of International Human Rights Day 2017, the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) and its Partner Organisation in Mauritania, Regroupement de la Presse Mauritanienne (RPM), wish to express serious concern about recent press freedom and human rights violations in Mauritania and to appeal to your Excellency to act to stop the dreadful trend.
We are particularly concerned about the persecution of a group of senior journalists from various independent and critical media organisations over the past three months. We are also alarmed at recent developments regarding the blasphemy trial of blogger Cheikh Mohammed Ould M’kheitir who has been in detention since 2014.
On August 25, Moussa Samba Sy publication director of the Nouakchott Daily and President of the Mauritanian Press Group; the Administrative Manager of the CRIDEM news website, Rella Ba; Jedna Deida, founder of the news website Mauriweb and Ahmed Ould Cheikh, editorialist and director of the weekly Le Calame, were summoned and interrogated by the Economic Crimes Department of the Mauritanian Police. The authorities questioned them about their writings, the motives of their articles criticising the government and the sources of their funding.
After appearing before the public prosecutor and the panel of investigating judges, these four journalists were placed under strict judicial control. Their passports have been withdrawn; they are formally forbidden to leave Nouakchott and must report every Monday to the Directorate General of National Security.
We wish to point out that, despite press offenses having been decriminalised, some of these journalists had previously been summoned before a court in Nouadhibou, a city located 460 km from the capital upon a complaint by a minister, while others were placed under a committal order at the request of your son.
In our humble opinion, the repetition of such acts aimed at intimidating journalists and influencing their editorial line is unworthy of a respectable democracy which Mauritania is supposed to be.
These actions reflect a resolute will to stifle critical journalism as demonstrated by a directive issued by your Prime Minister in February 2016 prohibiting all state institutions and public enterprises from placing advertisement or taking subscriptions in private newspapers. This measure was clearly intended to economically suffocate the private media out of operation.
With regard to Cheikh Mohammed Ould M’kheitir, we view the continued detention of the blogger, despite the recent ruling that overturned his 2014 conviction for blasphemy, as an affront to the rule of law.
The hurried amendment of Mauritania’s penal code regarding blasphemy in reaction to the ruling and the Public Prosecutor’s decision to appeal the judgment give cause for concern. We wish to remind Your Excellency that applying laws retroactively is frowned upon as a travesty of justice in all jurisdictions and under all human rights instruments. We therefore urge you to restrain your Minister of Justice from making any such attempt, and to ensure that the rule of law is followed in the Ould M’kheitir case.
Press freedom and freedom of expression in general are pivotal to building democratic societies where human rights are respected. Violating these rights therefore amounts to a direct attack on the very foundation of democracy and human rights.
In view of this, we appeal to your high office to make it a point of honour to personally act to prevent Mauritania from continuing along this sad trajectory and becoming a human rights pariah among the comity of nations.
While awaiting a favourable reaction to the above concerns, we wish to convey to Your Excellency our sincerest salutation.
M’Rabih Ould Deid