The Mauritanian authorities have violently cracked down on two peaceful demonstrations this month.
In April 2009, two demonstrations attended by political parties and members of civil society were violently repressed. The demonstrators wanted to stage a peaceful protest against the electoral timetable imposed by the authorities who took power in the wake of the military coup of August 2008. The coup leaders overthrew the Mauritanian government, in office since the multi-party presidential elections of March 2007.
On 19 April, the police had used force to disperse a group of women who tried to organise a sit-in in front of the United Nations headquarters in Nouakchott. Many women, including former ministers, members of parliament and human rights defenders, were kicked or beaten with batons and belts.
One of the victims of this repression, Mme Nebghouha Mint Mohamed Vall, former Education Minister, told Amnesty International: “I was hit by police officers. I lost my veil and when my daughter tried to retrieve it she, too, was beaten.”
Another demonstrator, Chicha Mint Benna, daughter of Mohamed El Hafedh Ould Denna, president of the opposition Mauritanian Labour Party, fell unconscious after being beaten and had to be hospitalised.
Two weeks earlier, on 2 April, the police violently repressed a demonstration organised by the Coordination of Democratic Forces (a coalition formed by the opposition party, the National Front for the Defence of Democracy (FNDD), trade union federations, human rights and civil society organizations). The demonstrators were protesting against the decision to organise a presidential election on 6 June 2009, which they saw as an attempt to legitimise last year’s military coup.
One human rights defender, Boubacar Messaoud, president of the non governmental organisation, SOS Slaves, was beaten up by police at the demonstration. He told Amnesty International: “They beat me on the back with batons and carried on until I lost consciousness. The doctor who examined me later said that the blow to my neck could have killed me”.
Several members of parliament, including Kobade Ould Cheick and Mohamed Moustapha Ould Bedredine, identifiable by their official sashes, were also beaten and the police fired teargas at them.
Amnesty International has called on the Mauritanian authorities to respect the freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, without the use of violence.