The first, a young married man with a new baby, from a wealthy family. The story is well known in Mauritania: he shot a young woman in a fit of jealous rage while out joyriding one night with his friends. The young lady in question was airlifted to Morocco in order to receive specialist hospital treatment in Rabat, due to the lack of medical facilities in Mauritania, where doctors diagnosed injury to the spinal cord. Despite the best efforts of specialists, it is possible that she will be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life.
As for the accused, he tried in every way possible to cover up the case and keep it out of the public eye, including putting pressure on the victim’s family through intermediaries, by persuading tribal elders to intercede, and relying on the sensitivity of the situation in a conservative society to prevent the spread of gossip. However, he failed in his attempts to suppress the news, and it quickly spread across the internet and gained the attention of international media such as Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya.
The fact that the perpetrator confessed to his crime in front of doctors at the National Hospital, and the presence of witnesses at the scene, including two close friends, should have sealed his fate. But the next day, he was still walking around Nouakchott a free man despite the seriousness of his crime. Eventually the pressure of public opinion must have made it obvious that he would have to be shown to be “punished” for his offence. So, the judiciary arranged 5-star treatment for this special offender via the office of one of the departments of the judiciary, fetching in rugs and mattresses to assure his comfort. As people heard about his detention they waited anxiously to see justice served, but instead the case was dropped and he was set free with a paltry $200 fine.
Apart from the sheer injustice of the case, this is a shocking precedent to set for anyone who decides to sully the honor of women in Mauritania or any Muslim country.
It is worth noting that his companions were also detained by the police, and put under considerable pressure to supply false testimony about the event; that the weapon used was illegal and unregistered; and that there are reports that he lost control immediately after the shooting, and wanted to escape, leaving the young woman injured and without assistance. It is further said that his friends had to persuade him to calm down and take her to the hospital.
The second, a young married man with a new baby, from a respectable family. A hard worker who studied languages at university, and works for a non-government human rights organization in his country. Finding it impossible to be silent about the injustices he witnesses every day in his beloved homeland, this young man joined forces with other similar-minded friends and associates. Together, they formed a protest movement to draw attention to the issues afflicting every sector of society.
One tragic evening he heard that one of his friends had attempted to kill himself outside the presidential palace and was in the hospital. Within a few days his friend was dead. The newspapers and websites had heard the story, but had been satisfied to write it up as a suicide and what little media interest that existed quickly faded. Our young man was deeply saddened and determined to uncover the truth. But as he went in search of answers to explain what happened, he discovered that it was looking less and less like a suicide attempt and more like foul play. For example, security cameras attached to a private business overlooking the area would have captured the entire series of events, but the film was never released. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, forces were already moving against him, and both he and his late friend’s family were put under tremendous pressure to drop the issue. He even received calls from tribal elders telling him to quit, and offering him bribes to shut him up. At one point, his life was threatened.
It was impossible for the young man and his heavily pregnant wife to get out of the country for their safety, even temporarily, as there are delays and restrictions (both legal and invisible) with obtaining exit or entry visas and in any case, she could not fly or be expected to travel for long distances with the baby due in a couple of weeks. Shortly after receiving these threats, he and several friends were arrested during a peaceful street protest. On release from their detention, the group arranged a press conference, where one of the journalists made a cutting and insensitive remark about the “suicide” as a way of mocking the non-violent aspirations of this group.
Despite all these hardships, the young man refused to cave in under any pressure. He continued in his struggle, remaining true to his morals. In fact, he was arrested again last week at another protest. Each time, there is no 5-star treatment for him. Just a filthy cell without any amenities or furnishings. Friends who try to bring food or water are turned away.
These two stories are both true stories.
- Deux jeunes hommes de la Mauritanie (French version)