Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights; however, it sometimes arbitrarily and selectively applied regulations to suppress individuals or groups of individuals who oppose 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 has 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.
Press and Media Freedoms: The government owned two daily newspapers and most broadcast media; five radio stations and five television stations were independent. 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.
For example, on April 16, Deyloul (a news website close to the opposition) reported two journalists (Jedna Deida of Mauriweb and Babacar N’Diaye of Cridem news websites) were tried on April 15. They were arrested and then released following a complaint for defamation filed by the eldest son of President Aziz.
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. On January 27, the president of the country’s journalist syndicate, Moctar Salem, stated during a television broadcast that 12 journalists faced complaints filed by various government officials with the Ministry of Justice–a tactic used by the government to intimidate journalists.
For example, on January 25, Sidi Ali Ould Belemech, a journalist with the Mourassiloun news website, was detained and questioned by police after Ministry of Finance official filed a complaint against Belemech for criticizing him.
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 February 15, the Wali (provincial governor) of Hodh El Chargui Region prevented a press crew from the Essirage news group from completing interviews with some communities that were in conflict over a well. The crew allegedly lacked formal authorization from authorities in Nouakchott.
In February the government notified all private media outlets of a temporary suspension of all government funded subscription services and commercial advertising, which had provided financial support to private media. The government stated it planned to use the six billion ouguiyas ($17 million) typically spent annually on media subscriptions and advertising to more equitably support private media. Because of the suspension, however, the private media struggled to survive. On September 18, private media around the country organized a “Day without Press” to protest the government’s subscription and advertising suspension, which remained in place at year’s end. This was the country’s first media strike since 1991.
Some journalists practiced self-censorship when covering topics deemed sensitive, including the military, corruption, and the application of sharia, and there were reports police detained and questioned journalists in connection with their coverage of those topics as well as of slavery.
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 2015 approximately 15 percent of the population used the internet.
The parliament adopted a bill on cybercrime in December 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 ASSEMBLY
The constitution provides for freedom of 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 to hold a rally.
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 August 2, the newspaper Calame reported police closed the office of the Progressive Forces for Change, previously the African Liberation Forces of Mauritania, for unauthorized activities.
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, has been awaiting official recognition since 2008. Other similar organizations have received government permission to operate. In August a court sentenced 13 IRA members to three to 15 years’ imprisonment for their membership in the unregistered organization and participating in a Nouakchott riot on June 29. President Aziz has publicly stated more than once that IRA has never applied for recognition, a claim denied by the IRA vice president.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
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.
Exile: The law does not provide for forced exile. Nevertheless, several prominent opponents of the president have remained in self-imposed exile for years for fear of persecution or retaliation.
Ewlad Blad, a popular rap group, representing the country’s three largest ethnic groups (Moor/Beydane, Moor/Haratine, and Sub-Saharan/Halpulaar), remained in self-imposed exile in Senegal for fear of prosecution. Their lyrics revolve around social justice, inequality, rising food prices, high levels of corruption, nepotism, and what the group describes as the authoritarian manner of the president at the root of the country’s increasing social tensions.
Emigration and Repatriation: Launched in 2013, the National Agency for the Fight against the Vestiges of Slavery, Reintegration, and the Fight against Poverty (Tadamoun) is responsible for overseeing the reintegration of repatriated refugees and providing administration and identification support, as well as for contributing to the social and economic development of resettlement areas. Despite challenges–including food insecurity, land disputes, and inadequate sanitation, health, education, and infrastructure–the government made modest progress in reintegrating repatriated refugees.
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.
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 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.