- Mauritanian authorities again have used the country's rigorous press regulatory laws to suspend a weekly newspaper, 'Le Calame', for debating political issues. As the presidential polls approach, government attacks on the Mauritanian press are redoubling.
Mauritania's Ministry of the Interior, Posts and Telecommunications, which regulates the press, has suspended issue 414 of the weekly 'Le Calame', citing Article 11 of the Press Law, which allows for censorship without explanation. In terms with the harsh Press Law, no explanation was given.
A member of the weekly's editorial staff, as quoted by the Pana news agency, said the suspension is believed to be linked to an article entitled, "The big silence at the centre of the debate".
In the same issue of the paper, a former 'Le Calame' journalist, who now lives in exile in France, analysed the political situation in the country on the eve of presidential elections. The article advocated the urgent need for a genuine democratic alternative to what he called President Maaouiya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya's "political monopoly".
Article 11 of the 1991 Press Law gives the Ministry the right, by decree, "to ban the circulation, distribution or sale of newspapers [...] that undermine the principles of Islam or the credibility of the state, harm the general interest or disturb public order and security".
Recently, Mauritanian authorities frequently invoke Article 11, which is considered "a real threat to press freedom in Mauritania" by media watchdogs. In 2003, the infamous Article has been used with particular frequency. This is commonly understood to be related to the upcoming polls, which for the first time could threaten President Ould Taya.
Citing the content of one article, Mauritanian authorities on 23 September seized copies of the Arabic-language newspaper 'Essahifa'. On 29 July, they also banned distribution of the independent paper 'Le Rénovateur' on the same pretext'.
The French media watchdogs Reporters sans Frontičres (RSF) strongly condemned these attacks on the Mauritanian press. RSF has urged the Mauritanian authorities to lift a suspension order against 'Le Calame'. The group further repeatedly had called for the repeal of Article 11 of the Press Law.
In a ranking of the situation of press freedom around the world, published yesterday by RSF, Mauritania was ranked number 121 out of 166 countries. This puts Mauritania in a middle position among African countries, and the country had even improved its status from the previous year.
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