Area: 1,030,700 sq. km.
Type of state: republic
Head of state: President (Col.) Maawiya ould Sid’ahmed Taya
The government continued to tightly control both the written and broadcast media. Despite promises in May to support a "strong, free and professional media," they year was marked by censorship and intimidation. Seven publications were banned under article 11 of the 1991 press law, which punishes newspapers that mention taboo subjects, including those deemed to "undermine Islamic values or the reputation of the state, are against public interest or disturb law and order."
Two journalists were arrested for writing about the underground Paris-based Conscience et Résistance (Awareness and Resistance) movement. At the end of the year, a journalist was sent to prison for the first time in a decade.
A journalist imprisoned
Mohamed Fall Ould Oumere, publisher of the French-language weekly La Tribune, was arrested on 12 April in Boutilimitt (150 km. east of Nouakchott) in what a police source said was part of an investigation of the activities of the underground Paris-based Conscience et Résistance movement. The paper had reported on 25 March that leaders of the movement had secretly visited the country recently.
One of the journalist’s associates said he was about to publish in the paper the movement’s manifesto, which ruled out any negotiation with the government. He was also picked up as he was investigating the arrest the previous day of a teacher, Mohamed Baba ould Said, for allegedly having links with the movement. Oumere was freed on 21 April.
Three journalists arrested
Saed el-Din, editor of the Arabic-language daily Al-Hurriya, and Salah Aim, a cartoonist on the paper, were arrested on 7 March. The cartoonist was accused of criticising the tax and customs departments. They were released the same day. The editor had been interrogated in January by the state security police and the paper’s publisher had been a month later about the paper’s editorial policy. About 3,000 copies of the paper seized before on 4 February before they could be distributed.
Mohamed Mahmud ould Bakkar, publisher of the weeklies Al-Kaima and Assahafa, was arrested by plainclothes police at Nouakchott airport on 19 September and questioned about his alleged ties with the Libyan government and the underground Conscience et Résistance opposition movement. Bakkar, who is a member of the national committee on journalistic ethics, CRED, was released two days later. No legal action was taken against him.
Journalists physically attacked
Several journalists from the privately-owned press were attacked by riot police on 18 April while covering a civil society demonstration in support of the Palestinians. Among them was CRED president Abdrahman ould Horma ould Babana.
Pressure and obstruction
About 3,000 copies of the daily paper Al-Hurriya were seized on 4 February before they could be distributed.
The Arabic-language weekly Arraya, which is close to the Union of Democratic Forces (ex-UFD/EN), the main opposition party until it was banned in October 2000, was seized without explanation on 22 April before it could appear. Publisher Ould Wedi’a, who had already been arrested twice during police swoops on UFD/EN members, was summoned to state security police headquarters and questioned for several hours. Intelligence officials wanted to know how the paper learned that an Israeli ship had delivered a shipment of arms to Nouakchott. The French-language weekly Le Calame was also censored, probably for the same reasons.
The 8 May issue of the weekly Assahafa was seized by the interior ministry under article 11 of the press law. The ministry also censored the 30 May issue of the Arabic-language weekly Errai, whose editor Ahmedu Gwadia said the move may have been due to an article about the 26 May constitutional referendum in Tunisia.
The 2 July issue of the weekly La Tribune was banned under article 11, probably because of an article reporting the government’s failed attempt on 27 June to prevent the re-election of the outgoing president of the local bar association, Mahfoudh ould Bettah.
The 19 August issue of the Arabic-language version of the weekly Le Calame was refused permission to print by the interior ministry under article 11. The paper contained a report on a recent private visit to France by President Maawiya ould Sid’ahmed Taya which was met by protests by opposition supporters and French human rights groups.
On 3 October, the government lifted the work ban on Mohamed Lemin ould Bah, the correspondent of Radio France Internationale (RFI) and RMC Moyen-Orient, but an official source said a ban remained on RFI’s FM programmes.
The journalist had been summoned on 5 April 2001 by communications minister Rashid ould Saleh soon after his report on the president’s visit to Senegal had been broadcast on RFI. The report had spoken of better relations between the two countries due to the prospect of Mauritanian oil exports to Senegal.
The minister told him his reports had been harming Mauritania’s interests for some time and mentioned an earlier report about the dissolution of the main opposition UFD/EN party in October 2000. The government had banned FM broadcasts by RFI in November 2000, saying the station only gave negative news about the country.
Mohamed ould el-Kory, publisher of Inimich, was sentenced on 20 November to seven days in prison and fined the equivalent of 600 euros for "libelling and insulting" businessman Beshir ould Moulay Elhacen. An appeal was filed. It was the first jail sentence for a journalist in many years.
Copies of the weekly paper Raya were seized under article 11 on 17 December, probably because it reported that the Israeli ambassador had secretly visited the western town of Nouadhibou to see a Palestinian official who had obtained political asylum in Mauritania.