Mauritania: Arrests of opposition leader, anti-slavery activist and two journalists point to worrying pre-election crackdown

Authorities in Mauritania must immediately put an end to the wave of arrests of journalists, opposition figures and anti-slavery activists in an apparent pre-election crackdown on dissent, Amnesty International said today.

The president of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA) and former presidential candidate Biram Dah Abeid was arrested at his home on 7 August while Abdellahi el Housein Mesoud an IRA member was arrested two days later. Online journalists Babacar Ndiaye and Mahmoudi Ould Saibout were also arrested on 8 August after posting an article critical of a France-based lawyer close to the Mauritanian government which was initially published on another platform.

These arrests and detentions send a worrying signal of intimidation, harassment and crackdown on dissenting voices by the Mauritanian authorities ahead of September’s parliamentary, regional and local elections
François Patuel, Amnesty International’s West Africa researcher

“These arrests and detentions send a worrying signal of intimidation, harassment and crackdown on dissenting voices by the Mauritanian authorities ahead of September’s parliamentary, regional and local elections,” said François Patuel, Amnesty International’s West Africa researcher.

Biram Dah Abeid and Abdellahi el Housein Mesoud have been arrested following a complaint by a journalist who accused Biram of threatening him. The arrest took place on the same day as nominations were submitted for the country’s upcoming parliamentary election, in which Biram Dah Abeid is a candidate. No warrant was produced at the time of his arrest and he was told it was based on “an order that came from above”.

“The timing of Biram Dah Abeid’s arrest, days before the legislative elections to which he is a candidate, is highly suspicious and given the pattern of judicial harassment against him and members of IRA – Mauritania, it would come as no surprise if these charges were politically motivated,” said François Patuel.

Biram Dah Abeid and Abdellahi el Housein Mesoud’s lawyers have repeatedly been prevented from meeting their clients in detention. On 13 August, Biram Dah Abeid was charged with ‘voluntary assault on life and integrity of the person’, ‘incitement to voluntary assault on life’ and ‘threats of violence’. Abdellahi el Housein Mesoud was charged with ‘complicity’. Their lawyers were denied access to the police report and to the incriminating evidence referred to by the prosecution.

The proceedings brought against Biram Dah Abeid and Abdellahi el Housein Mesoud are already marred with irregularities, including being detained without charge over 48 hours and not being able to access their lawyers. The lawyers were also not being able to access pieces of the files used by the prosecution to maintain them in detention.

Babacar Ndiaye, the webmaster of news portal Cridem, and Mahmoudi Ould Saibout, journalist with Taqadoum, were arrested following a complaint from a Mauritanian lawyer based in France about an article they published. They have not yet been charged.

“The authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Babacar Ndiaye and Mahmoudi Ould Saibout. All journalists must be able to freely express their opinions without fear of reprisals, including in the context of elections,” said François Patuel.

Background

Activists and NGOs campaigning against slavery in Mauritania have long faced restrictions on their attempts to speak and work freely. Opposition senator Mohamed Ould Ghadda remains in detention on corruption-related charges and his trial proceedings continue to be delayed. He was arrested without a warrant on 10 August 2017 by men in civilian clothes who turned up at his home claiming to be police. Ould Gaddha has indicated his wish to stand in September’s elections but has been unable to get his candidacy validated as his case is pending in court. In July 2018, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled that the detention of Ould Ghadda was arbitrary and called for his immediate release.