Mauritanian junta forced to address press freedoms?

Was it public pressure that caused the Mauritanian courts to reverse its ban on the dissident e-journal Taqadoumy and release one of its jailed journalists? Or is the military junta that took power in an August 2008 coup actually considering taking the shackles off opposition media ahead of June presidential elections?
Opposition journalist Abou al-Abbas Ould Braham. Pressure from human rights groups and journalists led to the journalists release of Ould Braham on March 18.

NOUAKCHOTT, March 19, 2009 (MENASSAT) - Mauritanian judicial sources confirmed to MENASSAT that opposition journalist Abou al-Abbas Ould Braham was released from jail on Wednesday (March 18) after a high court ruled he had not published libelous stories on the e-journal Taqadoumy.

Meanwhile, the Mauritanian General Prosecution also decided to lift the ban imposed on Taqadoumy, and both decisions are said to be a result of a dialog that occurred on March 18 between the ousted Mauritanian Information Minister and an appointed consultant from the military junta that took control in an August 2008 coup d’etat.

Mohammad Ould Amid, a minister of the Mauritanian Military Council, released a statement on Tuesday (March 17) on behalf of General Mohammad Ould Abdulaziz apologizing for the police oppression against journalists who had organized a sit in for Barham on March 16.

Ould Amid declared the government’s commitment to opening a wider space for press freedoms, and signaled a readiness to include dissident party voices in official news outlets, including the opposition National Front for the Defense of Democracy.

Although such a memorandum of agreement would be the first of its kind in Mauritania, critics of the government’s repression of media wonder whether the new dialog is simply an election ploy ahead of June presidential elections.

Journalists’ initiative: dialogue instead of confrontation

The head of Mauritania’s Initiative to Defend Journalists, Mohammad Abdullah Ould Mamin, said that a March 18 demo to demand the release of journalist Ould Barham instead led to an unexpected meeting between the Information Ministry and opposition journalists.

Those present at the meeting demanded the government rescind the ban of the Taqadoumy e-journal and release of another jailed opposition journalist Abdul Fatah Ould Abeidna.

Ould Mamin told the news website Sahara Media that the government showed willingness to cooperate on media reforms, also confided during the meeting that “high profile personalities in the information ministry were willing to cooperate on the release of Ould Barham and the lifting of the ban on the Taqadoumy website.

The journalists attending the March 18 meeting made clear to the ministry that they rejected any government attack on the press - whether through defamation or libel challenges, Ould Mamin said.

And while the meeting had clear influence on Ould Barham’s release and the unblocking of the Taqadoumy e-journal, dissident journalist Ould Abeidna was still in solitary confinement in Dar Al-Naim prison.

Ould Abeidna fled an arrest warrant in 2007, and was extradited from Dubai last November to serve a one-year sentence for a series of articles that accused Mohamed Ould Bouammatou, a prominent businessman, of drug trafficking.

Ould Abeidna’s sentence can only be commuted through presidential pardon, and there was no indication that the March 18 meeting with the information ministry enhanced this possibility.

Winds of change?

International media attention has been focused on Mauritania since journalists were barred from attending Libyan president Moammar Gadhafi’s March 11 visit to mediate between the ousted Mauritanian president Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi and the military junta leader General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.

Opposition media that were excluded from the Gadhafi visit were already on edge when Taqadoumy was banned and Ould Barham was arrested, and the associated demonstration (March 16) helped add to international pressure for media reforms.

Military council spokesman Ould Amid’s “official” apology for Ould Barham’s arrest was indication that the government was indeed being cautious about clamping down on press freedoms.

And these events have not gone unnoticed by ousted president Sidi Mohammad Ould al-Sheikh Abdullah who has accused the military of running roughshod over the constitution, and repressing the media to help legitimize the 2008 coup.

Abdullah was democratically elected in 2007, and until recently had been severely isolated in Mauritania politically.

Both president Abudllah’s camp and the pro-junta political parties have capitalized on the media attention associated with Gadhafi’s recent visit and the clampdown on the e-journal Taqadoumy in order to clarify their take on press freedoms ahead of June presidential elections.

The head of the Mauritanian opposition National Front for the Defense of Democracy (NFDD), Ahmad Ould Dada, jumped on the anti-government bandwagon this week denouncing what he dubbed “the weird behavior” of the current government.

“This behavior (against Taqadoumy) reminds of the dark times of dictatorship we thought was long gone,” Ould Dada said, referring to the media repression of Maaouya Ould Sid’Ahmed Taya’s 21-year dictatorship (1985-2005).

The NFDD called upon Mauritanians and all concerned political parties to do what is best for the country – “to work hand in hand to prevent any setback that would worsen the current crisis.”


Mauritanian military junta responds to critics, reverses two-day media crackdown
Posted on 18/03/2009 - 09:54
The Mauritanian government reversed two moves cracking-down on independent media opposition outlet Taqadoumy - after people took to the streets to protest ongoing media repression by the military junta that seized power in a bloodless coup last year. police mauritania.jpg 

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