Mauritania’s Feb25 Movement 1st Anniversary

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The movement of February 25 in Mauritania celebrated it’s first anniversary with a peaceful demonstration in the capital, Nouakchott.

What marks the major difference between protests organised by m25fev and other activist groups, such as the students of ISERI for example, is their total commitment to non-violence, even in the face of extreme provocation. In the year since the birth of the movement this group has had to contend with many difficulties and disadvantages, including threats, harassment, competitors, imitators, smear campaigns and infiltrators.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8u7FUJ2GN2E]
The original idea was a march, beginning at the National Hospital and proceeding to the Presidential Palace. Plans and invitations were passed along by SMS, word of mouth, posters, flyers and of course using the website, FaceBook page and Twitter.  Some activists also took advantage of shared taxi journeys (a common feature of daily life in Mauritania) to spread word. The police, continuing the pattern of attacking any and all protests with violence, were positioned in large numbers – about 1000 according to some estimates – around the hospital. Police also set up roadblocks in all directions.

The result of police action prevented some people from gathering but a large contingent did manage to gather at the hospital. There were verbal confrontations with police from the outset, and some dramatic incidents:

  • one of the local Police Commissioners tried to run a protester down with his vehicle while police constantly kettled and dispersed activists and confiscated their mobile phones and cameras
  • after making a few arrests, police surrounded a mosque which activists entered to attend early evening prayers
  • once prayers were over the police violence increased and journalists from Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya and Sahara Media were harassed and had their cameras confiscated. At least one reporter was detained
  • believing they had neutralized both professional and citizen media the police further increased their aggression with a barrage of tear gas, percussion grenades and physical abuse using batons, fists, and boots.
  • the hospital was surrounded, and all exits sealed before the tear gas was used.
  • some patients inside the hospital were affected by the tear gas
  • at least one residence was hit by tear gas grenades
  • About 40 people were injured and a total of 17 arrests and some subsequent releases were reported throughout the demonstration, which lasted several hours.
  • at least one activist was taken to the city limits and stranded there by police
  • opposition MPs joined activists at the police headquarters to demand the release of remaining detainees, and all were freed after a few hours.
  • while in custody activists were questioned about their family or tribal ties and political affiliations

Despite all of the above, the day was a resounding victory for the movement from a moral and organisational standpoint.

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