Mauritania’s internet media under fire

2625_1120184402625_1167490532_30368722_4777072_nAbbass Ould Braham, a University of Nouakchott professor and writer for Taqadoumy — the leftist Mauritanian news website often cited here — was arrested this Monday after writing a lengthly piece accosting the junta. Ould Braham was taken into custody in a cafe in the capital, though no official warrant was put out for his arrest: Taqadoumy reports that “When his friend asked why they were taking Abbass away, the police answered that in was in relation to the articles he writes regularly for Taqadoumy“. Reporters held a sit in to show solidarity with Ould Braham, to which the authorities responded with tear gas, beating some protestors with batons. Taqadoumy, likely the second largest news site in Mauritania, has now been blocked and banned by Chinguitel and Mauritel servers, on the orders of the General Prosecutor. The spokesman of junta-leader Mohamed Abdel Aziz apologized today for both the arrest of Ould Braham and the “inappropriate” treatment of journalists’ protest but stopped short of anything else. Ould Braham’s case, he said, was not the president’s responsibility but rather that of the judiciary. In other words, do not expect anything much. The Justice Ministry has said that it pursued Taqadoumy after receiving numerous complaints alleging that “the newspaper published false rumors increasingly detrimental to the public and private interests and the values and morality” and that Taqadoumy has “come so far out of the limits of the freedom of the press law and offers to set the community, security and stability at risk.” There is pressure building.

A few words on Taqadoumy. Taqadoumy‘s (“Progressive”) general disposition is left-leaning. Since the August coup it has been especially critical of Mohamed Abdel Aziz and his clique, and was critical of the corruption and mismanagement that characterized Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi’s brief term. It is entirely web-based and is a rather low budget affair from a technological point of view. Since its recent opening it has become one of Mauritania’s leading news sources. It is the brainchild of Hanafi Dahah, and has plowed through with a strong line against the coup.

It also has ties to the underground Consience et Résistance (CR) movement (whose leader became Human Rights minister after the coup, to the grave irritation of the membership). While it cannot be said that Taqadoumy is CR’s mouth piece, one staffer gave me a hyperbolic, though not unbelievable (from anecdotal experience), percentage that indicates at least a great number of Taqadoumy‘s staff are members or somehow involved with CR. CR is known for being the most effective opposition group outside of Mauritania, and for driving the anti-slavery agenda, as well as for being among the most vociferous opponents of the Ould Taya regime. It is widely disliked by the authorities and many in traditional society because of its radicalism and its secularism: Its battle cry is, after all, لنفرض التغير “Let us impose change”. Not only were the groups members heavily persecuted in previous years, but so were those with even the slightest association. So there is a history of opposition both on Taqadoumy and within it.

The junta — and this must not be forgotten — has its own roots from within Ould Taya’s apparatus, and fully understands this context. It attempted to set up a website soon after taking power, which was met with shrugs. Having lost the internet media war — most of the online Mauritanian news is critical of the junta — the junta is lashing out at those who have won. It took early swipes at Sahara Media and Anbaa, as well. The junta is less and less popular as General Abdel Aziz’s naked ambition for power becomes more apparent, and as its international efforts continue to be ineffective in allowing the regime to muster any legitimacy in African, European or Arab circles. There are few, if any, internet laws on the books in Mauritania, and as one Taqadoumyista asks, “who is next?”

Update: Ould Braham was released shortly after detention, and Taqadoumy allowed back online.

8 thoughts on “Mauritania’s internet media under fire

  1. Indeed who is next? Abdelaziz will move next very soon to arrest political leaders. He has set his sight on presidency in going ahead with his election of 6 June. He will probably run alone, or with one or two false contenders of his own choice. Aziz will have all the difficulties legitimizing his power grab until the next coup. This is coup d’ etat, not rectification, in the country near you.

    The African Union should show some firmer stance against the coup in Mauritania, otherwise we will have power change through coups in Mali, Niger, Nigeria after what occured in Guinea, Madagascar and Guinea-Bissau. Kadafi is messing up Africa after his failed mediation in Mauritania et his saying in his stopover in Niger that presidential terms should not be limited. He is trying to convince Tandia of Niger to go beyond his second term.

  2. Here’s another very interesting victim of the new web censorship. Especially since POLISARIO has been so extremely cautious in their reaction to the coup. Despite Algeria having been openly, even aggressively opposed to it, the Sahrawi leadership has continued high-level contacts and refused to utter a single word either pro or contra, despite Gen. Abdelaziz’s known Moroccan connections.

  3. Le General released the journalist and allowed the opening of Taqadoumy, apologized and fired the judge who carried both actions. This as soon as the opposition reacted strongly against, including Ould Daddah, Messaoud, Reporters sans frontières and the public. He could not afford this while he is cooking his own election.

  4. Le General is being clever: he got some corruption cases against prominent members of the opposition, but blaming someone else. But the culprits have certainly noticed and should be shaking in their pants now. He will use this to get the culprits out of the opposition by breaking it at the start of his election. It is in Taqadoumy and related to mis-appropriation of funds at the Ministry of Rural Development. You can find in the Taqadoumy article with a pile of money on top (french section).

    The country is complicated. Thanks for your follow-up on your cousins the other moors next door.

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