The banal sounding “1991 law on press freedom” had for nearly 15 years allowed President Maaouiya Ould Taya and his government to order more than 100 seizures of independent Mauritanian newspapers. Arrests of journalists, articles cut out, publications banned, an omnipresent political police, taboo subjects, manipulation of public media, state lies, police brutality were the daily lot of a press proud of its independence, and sometimes its insolence towards an ever more despotic government. Mauritania had become a closed, sealed and tyrannical country towards its journalists and human rights activists.
One August morning in 2005, the police chief peacefully overthrew the regime while the president was on a visit to Saudi Arabia. He immediately promised to restore democracy within two years and began by getting voted a law banning him from seeking a mandate at the end of the period of transition, a ban that also extended to his all his ministers. He gathered the opposition, civil society and the press to hammer out a timetable and to set common objectives. In this context, Reporters Without Borders sent the new authorities its recommendations that the reform of the legislature should conform to international democratic standards. During a visit to Nouakchott in October, the organisation persuaded the new head of state to end censorship and resume broadcasts in the capital by Radio France Internationale (RFI). Reporters Without Borders also helped draw up a new press law.