H.E. Maawiya Ould Sid’Ahmed Taya
President of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania
Office of the President
BP 184, Nouakchott

Vienna, 6 September 2002

Your Excellency,

The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists, strongly condemns the seizure of issue number 219 of El Qalem, an Arabic-language weekly newspaper.

According to the information provided to IPI, the Ministry of the Interior, Posts and Telecommunications issued a ban on the 19 August 2002 edition of the El Qalem newspaper on 22 August 2002. No official explanation was given although the seizure was based upon Article 11 of the 25 July 1991 Law on Press Freedom in Mauritania, which empowers the Ministry to ban publications considered “likely to undermine the principles of Islam or the image of the State, to harm the public good, to compromise public order and security.”

Riadh Ould Mohamed Elhadi, the editor-in-chief of El Qalem, said the Ministry’s action may have been related to an article published in the edition, which criticised political Islam.

At least six newspapers have been censored by the Interior Ministry in the last 12 months. Two of them were banned in July 2002. Issue number 165 of La Tribune, a French-language weekly, which was due on 2 July, and issue number seven of Le Rénovateur, an independent bi-weekly, which was seized on 24 July.

The managing editor of La Tribune, Mohamed Fall Ould Oumere, had previously been arbitrarily arrested on 12 April 2002 for investigating the activities of an unofficial organisation called “Conscience et Résistance”. He was detained in the offices of the State Security Services and released on 21 April without trial.

Cheikh Tidiane Dia, editor of Le Rénovateur, said no explanation was given for the seizure of his newspaper although he suspects that the Interior Ministry may have been unhappy about an article on foreign exchange rates and the increase in the prices of essential goods in the country. Dia received notification of the seizure on 30 July, one week after the edition had been registered under Mauritanian law.

IPI would point out to Your Excellency that the Interior Minister is not the only government department interfering in freedom of expression in Mauritania. In April 2001, the Minister of Communications and Relations with Parliament, Rachid Ould, told Ould Bah, a correspondent for both Radio France International and Radio Monte Carlo Middle East, that he was no longer authorised to work. This came after a meeting held between the two of them which Rachid Ould had instigated. Bah had broadcast a report of Your Excellency’s visit to Senegal in which he mentioned the warming of relations between the two countries and the possibility that Mauritania could soon be an important exporter to Senegal.

The 1991 Law on Press Freedom encourages the arbitrary and unwarranted clampdown on free expression and the media in Mauritania. IPI therefore appeals to Your Excellency to do everything in your power to repeal the Law, cease the seizure of media publications in the country, and uphold Mauritania’s constitution, which “solemnly proclaims its attachment to the principles of democracy as they have been defined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as other international conventions Mauritania has signed.”

We thank you for your attention.

Yours sincerely,

Johann P. Fritz