The Mauritanian Radio and Television Broadcast Authority on Oct. 17 ordered Mauritania's five privately owned news stations to shut down for "failing to fulfill their financial agreements." The move is the latest sign of a crackdown on the independent press following a controversial referendum called by President Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz in August. The vote, boycotted by the opposition, approved abolition of the country's Senate after it ruled against expanding presidential powers. At least one station was removed from air. After the letters were sent , agents of the tax authority went to the office of al-Mourabitoun TV—a channel generally supportive of the opposition Islamist parties. Employees were ordered to leave, and the doors to the building were locked. The agents told staff that the channel owed 2 million ouguiyas (US$5,600), in tax, according to local media reports. (Committee to Protect Journalists)
Lawyers for 13 anti-slavery activists on trial in Mauritania said they have been tortured in detention. The activists, on trial for "rebellion and use of violence," were arrested last month after angry protests in a poor district of the capital Nouakchott slum community that faces forcible relocation as part of an urban clearance plan ahead of an Arab League summit to be hosted in the city. "One by one, the 13 spoke out against the forms of torture they had been subjected to in custody," said attorney Brahim Ould Ebetty, representing the members of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (ARI). The riots started when security forces stormed dwellings occupied for decades by members of the Haratin ethnic group, many of them former slaves. Authorities accused the ARI members of instigating the riots. The detained are now being held at an unknown location.
The US Department of Defense (DoD) on Oct. 30 announced that the last remaining British inmate, Shaker Aamer, has been released and returned to the UK after extensive review (PDF) by the Guantánamo Review Task Force. Though he is a citizen of the UK through marriage, Aamer identifies himself as a Saudi national. In 2001, Aamer was allegedly performing charity work in Afghanistan when he was captured by bounty hunters and transferred to a US military base as an al-Qaeda suspect. Aamer was transferred to Guantanamo in 2002 and remained there for 13 years despite being approved for release in 2007 and 2009. Aamer was never charged and claims he was consistently subject to abusive treatment. He often accused the prison of unfair conditions and recently went on hunger strike to press his grievances. Now that Aamer has returned to the UK, he must undergo physical and mental health assessment. Though it is unknown if he will be monitored for security reasons, Aamer has stated he has no ill intentions.
An independent UN human rights expert on Aug. 21 commended Mauritania for adopting a new law that establishes harsher sentences for slavery crimes, urging full implementation. The law adopted last week by the Mauritanian National Assembly doubles prison terms for slavery convictions, declared slavery a crime against humanity, and created tribunals to handle slavery prosecution cases. UN Special Rapporteur Urmila Bhoola said that the law is an important step on a road map toward eradicating slavery but insisted that "slavery and slavery-like practices can be eradicated only if the existing laws, policies and programs are implemented fully and effectively. This statement comes just one day after a court in Mauritania upheld a two-year prison sentence for Biram Dah Abeid, an anti-slavery activist convicted of inciting trouble and belonging to an unrecognized organization.
With ISIS in control of a chunk of Libya and Tunisia militarizing after a deadly terrorist attack, an article appears in the United Arab Emirates' The National warning of a "narco-jihadist" threat in North Africa. The commentary by Abdelkader Cheref, a professor at the State University of New York, warns that "huge quantities of Moroccan hashish transit through the Sahara where so-called narco-jihadists, who control a triangle of no-man's land between northern Mali and Niger, eastern Mauritania, southern Algeria and Libya, smuggle the shipments to Europe. There are mounting concerns regarding the links between Moroccan drug barons and narco-jihadists linked to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa."
Amnesty International called Jan. 15 for the release of three anti-slavery activists who were imprisoned in Mauritania. One of the imprisoned activists is prominent opposition politician Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid, who was the runner-up in last June's presidential elections. The former presidential candidate is also the president of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA) and won a UN Human Rights Prize in 2013. The three activists were given two-year sentences after being convicted of membership of an unrecognized organization and of taking part in an unauthorized assembly. The court acquitted seven other activists. Protesters outside the courthouse demonstrating against the judgment were dispersed by police with batons and tear gas. The IRA members that were arrested were engaged in a peaceful campaign to raise awareness about land rights for people of slave descent. Slave descendants who work on the land do not have any rights and must give a portion of their crops to their traditional masters. Police broke up the peaceful IRA meeting due to the absence of documents authorizing the group to meet, despite the fact that the IRA had requested the documents. AI called the sentence "politically motivated."
Blogger Cheikh Ould Mohamed of Mauritania was sentenced to death for apostasy on Dec. 25 after a court convicted him of "speaking lightly of the Prophet Mohammed" on websites. The defendant fainted when the ruling was read out in a court in the port town of Nouadhibou, judicial sources told AFP. He was revived and taken to prison. Mohamed says he is repentant, and his lawyer pleaded for leniency. Mauritania has the death penalty, although Amnesty International says it has not carried out any executions since 1987. Sharia law is recognized, but enforcement of strict punishments such as floggings have been rare since the 1980s. (AFP via Al Arabiya, Dec. 25) Supporters have launched a Free Mohamed Cheikh wesbite.
Parties that make up Mauritania's Coordination of the Democratic Opposition (COD) have announced a boycott of November's legislative and municipal elections after talks with the government collapsed without agreement earlier this month. The ruling Union for the Republic is the only party fielding candidates in every district, with the next highest representation from Islamist group Tewassoul, the only member of the 11-party COD that will field candidates. Tewassoul calls its participation a form of struggle against the "dictatorship" of President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who took power in a 2008 coup. The opposition is demanding the polls be postponed until April to allow time for a voter census and guarantees of the independence of the electoral commission. A vote was due in 2011 but has been repeatedly delayed due to disagreements between the opposition and government. The last legislative election was held in 2006. (AFP, Oct. 29; Reuters, Oct. 4)