Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, and the government 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 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 disadvantaged populations (namely the Haratines, or “Black Moors”), and sub-Saharan Africans.
Freedom of Expression: There were no major restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression. Nevertheless, local NGOs and bloggers, among other observers, reported the government’s actions in recent years discredited their image and reputation.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Several independent daily publications expressed a range of views with limited restrictions. Throughout the year incidents of government retaliation against media decreased compared with the previous year.
On July 3, authorities arrested Ahmedou Ould Wediaa, an antislavery activist and a journalist for the private television station al-Mourabitoune. The same day, another journalist, Camara Seydi Moussa, known for his frequent criticism of the government, was released after being detained for one week by police. These arrests were linked to the journalists’ published criticism of the presidential election process and disputation of the election results. 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–a practice that was noticeably more frequent after the new government took office in August.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some opposition leaders asserted they had no access to official media channels or outlets. The government made payment of back taxes, at times unpaid for years with official complicity, a matter of priority, threatening several independent media stations with insolvency. Since the August inauguration of the new president, private media channels have not reported being threatened.
The government cut internet communications for 11 days following postelection protests, although the duration of outages and disruptions varied by sector and region. There was no evidence that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. In September 2018 the government closed a religious training center linked to the political opposition. The center remained closed as of the year’s end.
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 for permission to hold large meetings or assemblies. Authorities usually granted permission but, on some occasions, denied it in circumstances that NGOs claimed were politically motivated.
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. If the ministry fails to respond within 45 days to a request to establish an NGO, the absence of an official answer is a tacit recognition that the NGO may operate, even though the NGO in these cases of nonresponse is not formally sanctioned and remains in a legally precarious status. The government encouraged locally registered NGOs to join a government-sponsored Civil Society Platform. Approximately 6,000 local NGOs registered with this platform during the year.
Since 2014 Amnesty International documented 43 cases in which NGOs working in the human rights sector had not received a response from the Ministry of Interior to their registration requests. On April 3, police informed the leadership of the association Main dans la Main (Hand in Hand) that they had to close their office in Nouakchott. Police made an inventory of the association’s property but failed to provide any legal grounds for the closure.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights, with some exceptions.
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.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: 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, and other persons of concern. Resources provided by the government were inadequate to meet the assistance needs of these populations.
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 57,000 Malian refugees in the M’bera refugee 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 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.