In April, Colonel Ely Ould Vall, President of the Military Council for Justice and Democracy, stated that deposed President Maaouyia Ould Sid' Ahmed Taya would be allowed to return to Mauritania, but would be banned from participating in forthcoming elections. In June, a new Constitution was approved by referendum, reducing the presidential mandate to five years, with a limit of two terms. Article 99 clearly condemns any constitutional reform aimed at maintaining a president in power. The reforms were due to become effective with the presidential election scheduled for March 2007. This election would return the country, ruled by a military junta since a bloodless coup in August 2005, to civilian rule.
In November, the Coalition of Forces for Democratic Change (Coalition des forces pour le changement démocratique, CFCD), a coalition of former opposition parties, expressed its satisfaction with measures taken by the government to guarantee transparency during legislative elections.
In May, a National Commission on Human Rights was set up and was given the task of evaluating detention conditions, following a prison breakout in Nouakchott in April which led to a clampdown by the authorities.
In June, a new law lessened censorship of newspapers by the Ministry of the Interior, reduced the sentences for press crimes, and foresaw the creation of private television and radio. In October, six members of a new institution responsible for regulating the media were named.
In July, eight people charged with belonging to an unauthorized organization and putting the country at risk of foreign reprisals were provisionally released. They had been arrested in 2005 along with 13 others, including Abdallahi Ould Eminou and two Algerian nationals. Three detainees escaped from Nouakchott Central Prison in April. Several were reportedly tortured in custody.
Possible prisoners of conscience
At least 15 people were arbitrarily arrested and accused of links to al-Qa'ida or other terrorist organizations. Some may have been prisoners of conscience. Several were held for up to a few days and then released uncharged. However, the majority were charged with endangering the security of the state and criminal conspiracy. They had not been brought to trial by the end of 2006.
• In June, two military officers, Abderahamane Ould Lekwar and Mohamed Ould Lagdaf, and three civilians including former ambassador Mohamed Ould Mohamed Aly and Mohamed Salek Ould El Hadj Moktar, President of Democrats without Borders, were arrested. They were charged with criminal conspiracy, endangering state security and conspiring against the constitution. All were close to former President Taya.
• In July, eight people, including Med Lemine Ould Jiddi and Taher Ould Abdel Jelil, were arrested and charged with terrorist acts, training abroad to commit terrorist acts in Mauritania and belonging to an unauthorized association. Four were provisionally released and four remained in detention.
Although President Vall committed to abolishing all forms of slavery in Mauritania, forced labour and slavery reportedly continued to be practised. Estimates of the number of people held in slavery varied widely. In June, at least eight people were released from slavery in the Adrar region 450km north of Nouakchott, while others reportedly remained in captivity in the region of Tagant, 400km north-east of Nouakchott.