Post-election crackdown in Mauritania: Internet shutdown lifted, journalist remains in detention

Election results were broadcast live on Facebook before Mauritanian authorities proceeded to shut down the internet. Source: Screenshot of a Facebook live broadcast by country's election commission.

Mauritanian authorities restored access to the internet after disrupting it for 10 days following the disputed presidential elections of June 23. However, the government continues to restrict press freedom and freedom of expression as part of its post-election crackdown.

Government-backed candidate, Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, garnered 52 percent of the vote, but widespread allegations of fraud have marred the election: Three opposition candidates, including anti-slavery activist Biram Dah Abeid — who came third with 18 percent of the votes — challenged the results before the Constitutional Council. Small protests disputing the results also took place in the capital, Nouakchott. 

On Monday, July 1, the council dismissed the opposition’s appeal, confirming Ould Ghazouani as the country’s next president on the basis of insufficient evidence for the opposition’s allegations of fraud.  

Arrests targeting journalists and opposition figures

Ahmedou Ould al-Wadea, a presenter for Mauritanian TV channel Al Mourabitoun, was arrested from his home in the capital Nouakchott on July 3. Al-Wadea, who is known for his criticism of outgoing president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, remains in detention in an undisclosed location according to human rights groups. It remains unclear which charges he faces.

Al-Wadea was not the only journalist to be targeted in this post-election crackdown. On June 26, police arrested Seydi Moussa Camaras, another journalist known for his criticism of the government. Cameras is the director of publishing for the weekly independent newspaper La Nouvelle Expression. He spent a week in detention before he was released on July 3. According to Reporters Without Borders, state security agencies accused him of disputing the election results during phone calls:

RSF has learned that the state security agents who arrested Moussa at his home, seizing all of the mobile phones and laptops there, accused him of disputing the election results during phone conversations, suggesting that his calls had been tapped.

Several opposition figures were also arrested by the authorities, Amnesty said in a June 27 statement. These include Samba Thiam, the leader of the Forces progressistes pour le changement (Progressist forces for change), before he was released in early July.

Ten-day internet shutdown lifted

Amid the crackdown, the government also resorted to shutting down the internet, before lifting lifting the ban on July 3. 

The Ministry of the Interior reportedly ordered the shutdown for security reasons, although activists and human rights groups believe the real aim was to prevent the opposition from mobilizing protesters. 

The government first disrupted access to mobile internet around mid-day local time on June 23, according to the Media Foundation for West Africa. Forty-eight hours later, they also disrupted access to fixed-line connections. 

The disruptions affected all three of Mauritania’s internet service providers: Mauritel, Chinguiteland Mattel. The companies did not provide a reason for the disruptions nor did they notify their users before they took place. 

The disruptions affected the capabilities of opposition leaders from organizing and mobilising protesters, in a country where only 21 percent of its 4 million people have an internet connection.

It isolated Mauritanians from the rest of the world — particularly human rights defenders, opposition leaders, and journalists — greatly limiting their ability to access information and publish information about the government's crackdown on protesters, journalists, and the political opposition. 

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