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: On July 17, the Mauritanian Observatory for Freedom of Expression denounced what it called a significant decline in freedom of expression through arrests of persons who tried to express their views peacefully.
For example, on July 11, police arrested 20 persons who protested in the city of Aleg against the constitutional amendments of August 5. The demonstration was organized during the visit of Prime Minister Yahya Ould Hademine, who was campaigning in support of the constitutional revisions.
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.
On June 13, al-Akhbar news website reported 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: There were several reported incidents of violence against and harassment of journalists. For example, on August 25, Cridem (an independent news website) reported that Reporters Without Borders criticized the government for intimidating the private press and specifically referred to security forces interrogating four journalists about their links to self-exiled businessman Mohamed Ould Bouamatou.
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.
On October 17, 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 they were either rebuffed or ignored by the owners of the private television stations.
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 2016 approximately 18 percent of the population used the internet.
The parliament adopted a bill on cybercrime in 2015 that establishes protection of systems and data. Journalists alleged the legislation would permit authorities to prosecute them for almost anything published online. The legislation would also bring encryption technology under heavy state regulation and nullify previous laws extending protections to journalists using digital technologies.
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 Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (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 July 29, Sahara Media news website reported that police dispersed a march organized by activists of the Democratic Rally Party, which was campaigning against the constitutional amendments proposed by the government in the August referendum. Police objected to the march on grounds that it was not authorized. Sahara Media reported that authorities banned several rallies and demonstrations organized by the opposition opposed to amending the constitution.
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.
On April 17, Tawary, a news website, reported that Nouakchott police used tear gas and batons to disperse approximately 200 young demonstrators who declared their plans to organize a peaceful demonstration that called for more involvement of youth in national decision making, particularly regarding issues affecting the youth. Several persons were injured and others were arrested. Police said the demonstration was not authorized.
The government encouraged locally registered NGOs to join the government-sponsored Civil Society Platform. Approximately 7,000 local NGOs did so. IRA Mauritania, whose president challenged President Aziz in the 2014 presidential election, had been awaiting official recognition since 2008. Other similar organizations received government permission to operate. Two IRA members remained in prison in Bir-Mogreine for their membership in the unregistered organization and alleged participation in a Nouakchott riot in June 2016. President Aziz publicly stated more than once that IRA had never applied for recognition, a claim denied by IRA.
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 52,000 Malian refugees in the M’bera camp and continued to offer asylum to new refugee arrivals.
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. Migrants determined to be illegally seeking to reach Spain’s nearby Canary Islands were immediately deported.
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 Mauritanian 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.