Abbass 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.