The year 2001 was marked by two events: the return in July of former state president Moktar Ould Daddah, ousted in a coup d’état in 1978, and the October legislative elections which took place in relative transparency.
Although the independent press was less a victim of censorship in 2001 than before, the authorities did use the famous Article 11 several times to take sanctions against newspapers which addressed forbidden topics. In terms of this article of the 25 July law on press freedom, "the minister can, by decree, ban the circulation, distribution or sale of newspapers [...] that undermine the principles of Islam or the credibility of the state, harm the general interest or disturb public order and security [...]". In this case, the interior minister is not compelled to justify his decision. He simply has to send the newspaper and the printers a "notification" banning the "circulation, distribution and sale" of the title.
During the year the Mauritanian press lost one of its great advocates, Habib Ould Mahfoud. This journalist was one of the founders, in 1988, of Mauritanie Demain, the country’s first independent publication. In 1991 he also launched Al Bayane and two years later created Le Calame which was to have the sad record of being the most censored newspaper in Mauritania. Habib Ould Mahfoud became famous with his chronicle "Mauritanides" which never hesitated to mock both the government and the opposition.
A journalist arrested
On 21 July 2001 police interrogated Mohammed Lemine Ould Mahmoudi, contributor to the weekly Le Calame and managing editor of the weekly Hasad Al-Ousbou’é, for several hours before releasing him. He was arrested while covering an official visit by the state president to the Tagant region. The journalist was suspected of having information on the identity of authors of graffiti hostile to the authorities and of acts of sabotage committed during the president’s visit.
Pressure and obstruction
Mohammed Lemine Ould Bah, correspondent for RFI and RMC Moyen-Orient, was summoned on 5 April 2001 by the minister of communications and relations with parliament, Rachid Ould Saleh, shortly after the broadcast on RFI of a programme on the visit of Mauritanian president Maawiya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya to Senegal. The journalist had mentioned heated relations between Mauritania and Senegal due, according to him, to the fact that Mauritania may soon be an oil exporter of interest to Senegal. "For a while now your articles have been damaging the interests of Mauritania", said the minister, mentioning another report by the journalist on the dissolution of the main opposition party, the Union of Democratic Forces-New Era, in October 2000. Rachid Ould Saleh told the journalist that he was no longer allowed to work for RFI and RMC Moyen-Orient.
On 27 June the interior ministry seized Eveil-Hebdo without any explanation. This decision may have been taken because of "one or two economic articles on the arrest of a gang" specialised in the production of forged money, the managing editor of the newspaper, Sy Mamadou, told AFP.
On 5 July the independent newspaper Inimish al Watan was censored by the interior minister by virtue of Article 11 of the press law. This sanction can be explained by two articles, one of which gave the list of the ten richest people in Mauritania and the other a list of Mauritanian businessmen who had relations with Israeli interests.
Independent journalist Gilles Ammar and his cameraman were expelled from the country on 20 November. Two days before that the Néma wali had informed them of this decision and accused them of wanting to write a report on slavery. The two journalists were covering the Paris-Dakar.