Amnesty International Report 2004 - Mauritania
|Publication Date||26 May 2004|
|Cite as||Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2004 - Mauritania , 26 May 2004, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/40b5a1fc10.html [accessed 5 December 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Covering events from January - December 2003
Government forces foiled a military coup attempt. Detained suspects were reportedly tortured in custody. None had been tried by the end of 2003. Relatives of suspected plotters were detained without charge or trial. Dozens of opposition supporters and religious leaders were detained for several weeks before being released, some after an unfair trial. Privately owned newspapers were banned arbitrarily. The suspension of a member of the Bar Association raised concerns about the independence of the judicial system.
In June members of the armed forces attempted to overthrow President Taya, who came to power after a coup in 1984. Dissident soldiers took control of part of the capital, Nouakchott, and attacked the presidential palace before government forces regained control. Officials later announced that 15 people, including civilians, had been killed and 68 wounded.
President Taya was re-elected on 7 November. The election was not monitored by independent observers and an opposition coalition alleged massive fraud throughout the country.
In July Parliament adopted a law against trafficking. It provided for up to 10 years' forced labour for anyone who forcibly, or by fraud or improper inducement, trafficks someone for the purposes of exploitation.
In July a new law effectively restricted freedom of expression by making all mosques public institutions and bringing them under the control of the Minister in charge of Islamic orientation. The law provided for sanctions against anyone who would use the mosque for political or sectarian purposes or for any act incompatible with "quietude and respect". This move was part of a government campaign against Islamist opposition groups.
Release of prisoners of conscience
On 24 August, Mohammed Lemine Chbih Ould Cheikh Melaïnine, President of the Front populaire mauritanien (FPM), Popular Mauritanian Front, and two other prisoners, Mokhtar Ould Haibetna and Bouba Ould Hassenan, were released under a presidential pardon. They had been sentenced to five years' imprisonment after being convicted of "conspiracy to commit acts of sabotage and terrorism" in an unfair trial in June 2001.
Detentions and unfair trials
In April, May and June dozens of opposition party supporters and imams were arrested in Nouakchott and the northern town of Nouadhibou. All were detained incommunicado for several weeks. Some were members of the Parti de la renaissance nationale (PRN), National Renaissance Party, which the authorities then moved to ban by sealing its headquarters in Nouakchott on 3 May. On 29 May, nine PRN members were convicted on charges of "forming an unauthorized association and reorganizing a party after it has been disbanded" although the PRN had not been banned at the time of their arrest. Some were denied lawyers of their own choice. They were given prison terms of up to six months, suspended.
In June more than 30 other detainees, mostly religious leaders, were charged with "plotting against the constitutional regime and incitement to undermine the State's internal and external public order". They were provisionally released in August. Their trial had not begun by the end of 2003. The remaining detainees were released without charge.
In November, presidential candidate Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidalla, two of his sons and at least 13 others were arrested before and after the presidential election. After several weeks of incommunicado detention, on 28 December, nine detainees were convicted of crimes related to state security: Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidalla and four others were sentenced to suspended five-year prison terms, fines and deprivation of civil and political rights; four others received suspended two-year terms and fines. The remaining detainees were acquitted of similar charges.
No judgment had been given in the trial of Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidalla's younger son by the end of the year. Independent observers noted irregularities in the trial proceedings.
Scores of armed forces officers were arrested following the coup attempt in June. After three months of incommunicado detention, in September at least 128 officers and soldiers were brought before a judge and charged with treason, a capital offence. They were reportedly held at a naval camp in Nouakchott, which was decreed an official prison from September by the Minister of Justice. The trial had not started by the end of 2003.
Dozens of people suspected of links with the coup plotters, including relatives, were also detained. Some were held in secret locations for several weeks. All were subsequently released without charge or trial.
In July armed forces officer Lieutenant Didi Ould M'Hamed was extradited from Senegal as a suspected coup plotter and returned to Mauritania, despite Senegal's international human rights obligations not to extradite anyone to a state where they risked serious human rights violations (see Senegal entry).
Torture and ill-treatment
Some detainees arrested after the failed coup attempt were reportedly tortured or ill-treated. The military detainees were said to have been handcuffed 24 hours a day and beaten with gun butts. Some were allegedly made to lie on the ground, their hands tied, while soldiers trampled on their backs.
Freedom of expression
Several newspapers were either suspended or banned. In June the weekly newspaper Erraya was banned, apparently for publishing an article deemed critical of the government.
Independence of the judicial system
In July, Mahfoudh Ould Bettah was suspended from membership of the bar for three years for allegedly usurping the title of President of the Bar Association and for insubordination. The decision was circulated to the entire judiciary before he was formally notified. There was concern that the government had engineered his removal from power after he was elected President in June 2002. The presence of the police at the vote, the challenge to the announced results, and a new vote two days later that resulted in the election of a candidate from the ruling party all contributed to suspicions of interference by the authorities.