#Mauritania Citizen Journalists Robbed

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There’s a reason we call it “the struggle”, “la lutte”. Nothing can be taken for granted in a repressive situation, even things that should be simple are made difficult. Logic and convenience slide uselessly off the hunched shoulders of the oppressed.

For the majority of activists in Mauritania, our everyday reality is all too often an inaccessible and frustrating dream. The patchy internet, already reminiscent of 90′s dial-up, became even more unreliable after the recent decision by the biggest of the three service providers, Mauritel, to restrict access to certain IP addresses, such as the extremely popular Facebook network. A pair of youth activists – aware of the perils of being arrested and having your equipment confiscated or destroyed by the security forces –  had decided to try the official route, and were successful in applying for a press permit. They had only just begun to experiment with live streaming video of protests and opposition events to their “Akhir Khaber” Facebook page linked to Twitter (@akherkhabar1). It took months for them to reach this stage, and they worked hard to get there. No sooner had they achieved this technical achievement, than the Mauritel restrictions were implemented. So they battled again, finding a way to reduce video transmission quality and sourcing an alternative internet connection service.

Last Saturday, 23 June, they were filming the biggest opposition march yet in the capital Nouakchott. During the speeches, one of the guys, Ahmed, was up on the dais with the rest of the journalists and he managed to get in-person interviews with several of the party leaders. Just as the event was coming to a close, a group of troublemakers stormed the stage area, presumably acting under the orders of the regime. This created a precarious security situation and the official organisers had to ask everyone to show their ID. It was during this moment, after Ahmed put his camera down just long enough to get his ID out to show to the official, that the camera was stolen. They didn’t see who took it, and they have no idea what to do now. The cheapest replacement is $500. Cameras and mobile phones often have to be bought from outside Mauritania and shipped in, which pushes the cost up even further.

The saddest part of this story is realising they know they have no choice but to accept this. It’s pointless going to the police. The system does nothing to protect ordinary citizens. Insurance is unheard of, and if it existed, it would most likely be a scam. It’s not the first time they’ve had hard-earned possessions stolen, and they know it won’t be the last. It’s the same story across the whole of Africa, not only Mauritania.

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