Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right; however, it sometimes arbitrarily and selectively applied regulations to suppress individuals or groups of individuals who opposed government policies. Individuals were generally free to criticize the government publicly or privately but were occasionally subject to retaliation. The constitution and law prohibit racial or ethnic propaganda. The government used these provisions against political opponents, accusing them of “racism” or “promoting national disunity” for speaking out against the extreme underrepresentation in government of Haratines and sub-Saharan Africans.
Freedom of Expression: There were no major restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression. Local NGOs and bloggers, among other observers, reported the government’s actions in recent years discredited its image and reputation. For example, it arrested journalists who were sympathizers to prominent government opposition figures.
On September 15, the news website al-Akhbar reported that police arrested several opposition bloggers and activists at the headquarters of the political party Tawassoul in the city of Zoueirate in the northern part of the country. Included in the arrests was a youth caravan coming from Nouakchott to support the opposition candidates.
Press and Media Freedom: Several independent daily publications generally expressed a wide variety of views with limited restrictions. Throughout the year incidents of government retaliation against media deemed too outspoken increased.
In June 2017 the National Assembly passed a bill imposing harsh penalties on journalists who publish “incendiary” articles. The law describes possible financial penalties for journalists publishing articles or statements that may, according to government, incite discrimination, hatred, violence, or insult based on origin, ethnicity, or nationality.
Independent media remained the principal source of information for most citizens, followed by government media. Government media focused primarily on official news but provided some coverage of opposition activities and views.
Violence and Harassment: On October 8, political parties from the hardline opposition, as well as many international and national organizations, denounced the government’s repression and harassment of the protests organized by the IRA.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some opposition leaders asserted they had no effective access to official media. The government made payment of back taxes, at times unpaid for years with official complicity, a matter of priority, threatening the solvency of several independent stations.
In October 2017 Tele Diffusion Mauritania (TDM) briefly shut down five private television channels. TDM explained that its decision to suspend the private television stations’ operations was intended to force these outlets to pay their overdue royalties and broadcasting dues. TDM claimed to have made several attempts at finding an amicable solution but said they were either rebuffed or ignored by the owners of the private television stations.
On August 3, TDM again notified private channels and radio stations to pay their debts. According to the local press, TDM gave one week for these media outlets to settle, otherwise, they would be closed again. The media outlets did not pay, but they were not suspended.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, in 2017 approximately 21 percent of the population used the internet.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were no reported government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly. Registered political parties are not required to seek permission to hold meetings or demonstrations. The law requires NGO organizers to apply to the local administrative chief for permission to hold large meetings or assemblies. Authorities usually granted permission but on some occasions denied it in circumstances that suggested the application of political criteria.
On several occasions officials with the IRA and other organizations reported security force members arrested their activists for failing to obtain the local prefect’s permission before holding a rally.
On August 29, the news website Sahara Media reported that police dispersed an opposition rally in Nouakchott in advance of the September elections. Police objected to the rally on the grounds of a complaint filed by Al-Najah Company, which owned the old airport (site of the rally). According to opposition leaders, they had previously received approval from the government to hold the rally.
After parliament opened on October 8, the IRA organized several largely peaceful protests against the continued detention of their leader and newly elected parliamentarian Biram Dah Abeid. Police response to some protests was violent.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally, but not in every instance, respected this right.
All local NGOs must register with the Ministry of Interior and Decentralization. Generally, if the ministry fails to respond within 45 days to a request to establish an NGO, the NGO may proceed with its work, although it was not considered officially registered.
Since 2014 Amnesty International documented 43 cases in which NGOs working in the human rights domain had not received a response from the government on their registration requests, meaning the NGOs were not authorized to operate in the country.
The government encouraged locally registered NGOs to join the government-sponsored Civil Society Platform. Approximately 6,000 local NGOs did so.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights, but there were exceptions.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, vulnerable migrants, or other persons of concern. Resources provided by the government were inadequate to meet the assistance needs of these populations.
In-country Movement: Persons lacking identity cards could not travel freely in some regions. As in previous years, the government set up mobile roadblocks where gendarmes, police, or customs officials checked the papers of travelers.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR carries out refugee status determinations under its mandate and then presents cases to the National Consultative Commission for Refugees for recognition. The country hosted nearly 54,000 Malian refugees in the M’bera camp and continued to offer asylum to new refugee arrivals. The country also provided additional security in the camp to allow the Malian refugees to vote in the 2018 Malian presidential election.
In accordance with agreements with the Economic Community of West African States on freedom of movement, the government allows West Africans to remain in the country for up to three months, after which they must apply for residency or work permits. Authorities immediately deported migrants determined to be illegally seeking to reach Spain’s nearby Canary Islands.
The law allows children born outside the country to Mauritanian mothers and foreign men to obtain Mauritanian nationality at age 17. According to Article 15 of the code of nationality, as amended, children born to Mauritanian fathers and foreign mothers are automatically Mauritanian. If the father is stateless, children born outside the country are subject to statelessness until age 17, at which point the child is eligible for nationality. The unwillingness of local authorities to process thousands of sub-Saharan Africans who returned from Senegal, following their mass expulsion between 1989 and 1991, rendered the returnees stateless.