Authorities at the Ministry of Interior, Post and Telecommunications in Nouakchott, capital of Mauritania have, within one week, between October 12 and 18, 2003, banned or seized print runs of four weekly newspapers in the country. The affected publications are: Le Calame, Le Journal du Jeudi, Le Sahara and Essahiva.
According to Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)-Mauritania, the Ministry, as usual, gave no explanation for the latest clampdown. It is significant, however, that the actions come a few days to the start of official campaigning on October 22, 2003 for the country’s Presidential elections slated for November 7, 2003.
Six candidates are vying for the presidential post; including incumbent President Maaouiya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya who is seeking a third term. President Ahmed Taya came to power in 1984 after a military coup and arranged, and won, two successive elections in 1992 and 1997.
The Ministry of Interior, Post and Telecommunications frequently invokes Act 91- 023, the Law on Press Freedom in Mauritania, to censure publications perceived to be opposed to or critical of the government.
Article 11 of this anti-media-friendly legislation provides in part that, “The circulation, dissemination or sale … of newspapers or periodicals … likely to undermine the principal of Islam or the image of the state, to harm the public good, to compromise public order and security, whatever the language in which it is written, may be banned by an order from the Ministry of Interior.” The law also requires all newspapers to deposit five copies of every edition at the Interior Ministry and to obtain a permit before circulating the particular issue.
At a meeting on October 18, 2003, newspaper publishers in the country expressed concern about the discretionary and arbitrary use of the law to proscribe independent publications. They condemned the repressive attitude of the government and demanded greater freedom and respect for the rule of law.
The MFWA believes that this is the only way to ensure the necessary conducive conditions for free elections and genuine democracy in Mauritania. Please protest the use of the harsh press law to censure the media in Mauritania, and the recent clampdown on newspapers in the country.