Friday 25 May 2012 saw several protests and rallies in Mauritania.
Young supporters of the Coordination of the Democratic Opposition (COD) political coalition gathered after early evening prayers at the Saudi mosque in Nouakchott and were immediately confronted by anti-riot police using tear gas, sound bombs and batons to disperse them. There were several arrests and at least 10 injuries reported. Not surprising when you can plainly see in the video here police firing tear gas and sound grenade directly at protesters, rather than over their heads.
Once again, the discarded shells bore the name of the French supplier “Nobel Securité”. Hardly prize-worthy behaviour. There are also nightly vigils outside the police station in Nouakchott where detained protesters are still being held.
The COD old guard, with a few youth in tow, is on another tour of the country and already facing disruption, with reports of regime supporters hiring vehicles to block their route, and posters advertising their rally in Tidjika being removed by officials. Despite all efforts, there was a big turnout. The Tidjika event marked a couple of significant milestones: it is the first location I am aware of where youth activists used live streaming video to relay the proceedings; and UFP party leader Mohamed Ould Mouloud joined the gathering by phone from Paris.
Over in Fassala, where thousands of refugees from Mali have been seeking refuge since January, elders have announced [ar] their complete lack of faith in the system and say they plan to join the Islamic Tewassoul party. This will no doubt provide kindling for the Jihad-watchers’ bonfire.
In Nouadhibou, there was a protest [ar] by supporters of IRA anti-slavery campaigner Biram Ould Obeid and his 10 companions. They remain under arrest in an unknown location since the end of April, after the incident where Biram burned some books of Islamic jurisprudence in protest at their apparent support for slavery. As I write this, Saturday 26 May, another march is taking place in Nouakchott, and is under attack by police with injuries being reported. Biram’s wife Leila was savagely attacked, her clothing was torn and she sustained a deep gash to her face. During a similar protest last week, a youth received a serious head injury and there was a report of a fight between opponents and supporters of Biram. Also reported this evening, traditional craft-makers in Kiffa are protesting [ar] to demand more government support and fair treatment. One of many locations which has been enduring long-term water shortages, Kiffa also saw an anti-government protest on Friday.
I haven’t seen them on the street this past week, but the “No to Porno” protesters are active again, with the added zing of a demand for morality police and talk of Islamists wanting to form a political party. Their sisters in arms so to speak, the Salafi girls, were protesting again last week. Another group yet to make a public appearance is the latest iteration of Aziz youth supporters. He can afford to buy new ones now his payola scheme to subvert student protests has been exposed, forcing him to swiftly reach a deal with the ISERI students – and for the principal to mete out expulsions as punishments [ar] for University students for turning the tables on Aziz’ little game. Some of the original 21 students subsequently had their expulsions reversed. As a different and possibly more effective form of protest, rice farmers in Rosso are suing the Ministry of Rural Development over its failure to provide basic fertilizer. Ironically, the farmers include graduates recruited by the government to pilot the scheme, which was hailed by Aziz as a great success and targeted for expansion.
Staying with irony, wry smiles during discussion of the story claiming that AQIM in northern Mali had flogged someone in public for smoking. The consensus was that since one of the top AQIM commanders is known as “Marlboro Man” and the entire outfit makes a significant proportion of its money from smuggling tobacco, the level of hypocrisy was just too much. Less wry, more of a painful grimace, listening to Press TV’s report on Mauritania – yes, the media’s desperate search for traces of Arab Spring continues – with the presenter referring to the people there as “Mauritians”. Slightly better than “Martians” I guess.
This is the end of another bad week for human rights and justice in Mauritania.
- the office of a human rights NGO in Zouerate is still under siege by police
- the Nouakchott offices of the Human Right Observatory were ransacked by “persons unknown” and files and laptops removed (supporters are rallying round and sharing evidence of abuse and torture)
- the media liaison for an NGO was assaulted by the local animal control officer after he killed her pet dog
- journalists continue to be harassed, arrested, and a senior editor was removed from his job under allegations of dissent
- the Chief Justice has been removed from office by a unilateral decision of president Aziz, to be re-assigned as ambassador to Yemen. He is strenuously fighting this decision as unlawful and has the support of the Bar Association.
- diplomatic staff of the Foreign office have made public protests over the lack of protocol in recent appointments (such as two unqualified friends of the president’s wife being given cushy jobs in foreign embassies) and have been publicly insulted by the Foreign Minister, who said he could appoint a janitor to any post in the diplomatic corps in reply
- Amnesty International’s newly published human rights review criticises Mauritania on several counts, including religious persecution, unlawful and secret detentions, and using live ammunition against protesters
I can’t close this post without remembering those who are too weak to protest: the people in Kinkossa and other remote locations struggling with an outbreak of meningitis, and the tens of thousands of drought-affected residents and refugees marooned in isolated communities with inadequate transport, power, water or sanitation infrastructure.
Photo Album of the week’s events