Digiactivism Alive in Mideast

26 07 2010

Doesn’t  Sound “Passive”, eh?

Every now and then, someone in the West comes to make some outlandish claim about the use and potential of Social Media in the Middle East, hint: the Iran Twitter Revolution. This time, it comes from the Middle East from Rami Khouri who writes for Lebanon-based Daily Star. His central claim, in his piece picked by the New York Times (..) is that Arabs who are using social media tools are largely spectators:

Blogging, reading politically racy Web sites, or passing around provocative text messages by cellphone is equally satisfying for many youth. Such activities, though, essentially shift the individual from the realm of participant to the realm of spectator, and transform what would otherwise be an act of political activism — mobilizing, demonstrating or voting — into an act of passive, harmless personal entertainment.

This claim does not stand the test of reality, take for example the recent anti-censorship protest in Tunisia reported on this blog, or even closer to Mr Khouri’s levant, the case of Egyptian citizen Khaled Said whose killing at the hands of Egyptian police officers became a rallying point for those same “passive” Arabs. Khaled Said’s murder was quickly picked up and relayed via twitter, Facebook where a group for him quickly grew to include over 200000 users. Later on, those same “passive” youth took their online virtual activism to the real world by organizing protest demonstrations, sit-ins- flash mobs. Now, hold your breath, just last Sunday the latest protest demonstration took place thousands of miles away from Khaled Said’s native Alexandria, it happened here in the US in New York.

Many of us have grown so used to seeing this cycle unfold in the Middle East over the last few years, however, what is remarkable is that the time it took in 2005 to start an advocacy campaign  has been considerably shortened, primarily, due to the scale of users and the growing skill pool: thousands and thousand more Arabs are in fact using Social Media tools. For instance, the Khaled Said tragedy broke out in June, we’re now in the end of July and protest has already been exported outside of the Middle East.

So, it would not be very hard to see why Khouri’s claim here seems bizarre:

We must face the fact that all the new media and hundreds of thousands of young bloggers from Morocco to Iran have not triggered a single significant or lasting change in Arab or Iranian political culture. Not a single one. Zero.

if we only considered the full impact of the Khaled Said campaing (which is just the newest of many): it allowed Egyptian activists to force the government’s hand, the killers are facing trial, and there is an entire new discourse emerging in Egypt crystalizing young Egyptian hopes for their civil rights to be respected: a demand to stop police brutality.

Interestingly, the protest and the sit-ins that happened in Egypt itself were largely driven by young activists without any implication of the existing political parties, thus, it is interesting how new media is giving these activists a voice. Consider for example this new tactic used by young Egyptians to identify  police officers who are involved in torture and compiling their names. See the growing “piggipedia” archive on Flickr tracking those police officers. Talk about crowd-sourcing justice..

Without belaboring the point here, Rami Khouri misses the mark entirely on the realities of Middle East Digiactivism.

On the geopolitical side of Mr Khouri’s piece, chiefly his complaint, heard ad nauseam in the region among those very same activists he dismisses so lightly, about the “hypocrisy” of American government’s interest in social media while it supports the very same dictatorships that crush liberties:

One cannot take seriously the United States or any other Western government that funds political activism by young Arabs while it simultaneously provides funds and guns that help cement the power of the very same Arab governments the young social and political activists target for change.

My answer is very simple, these activists might actually NOT, I repeat, NOT NEED US government’s funds or support. They have done fine for themselves so far and grew their skills tremendously. most of them factor already in their game plans that there is no cavalry that will be forthcoming from DC to do a job they already figured how to do for themselves, thank you very much!

Otherwise, check for yourself the scores of Arab bloggers and  journalists who are rotting in jails or facing harassment without a peep heard from Washington about them.

That is the unspoken code many of the shakers and movers of Mideast Digiactivists agree on, and Mr Khouri completely ignores: “we don’t care for what you want, we’re doing our own thing, leave us alone.”, I heard that for myself while attenting the Arab Bloggers conference back in December 2009 where I ran a session precisely discussing the issue of funding.

As of now, it looks to me like Washington DC politicians need Middle East activists a heck lot more than Middle Eastern activists need them..

Dummies Guide to Constitutional Fraud

13 01 2010

Colonel Ould Taya

As an activist interested in issues of reform in the MENA region, I was grabbed by a commentary at the Maghreb Blog on a paper entitled “Constitutional Reform in the Arab World” by Professor Amina El Messaoudi of the Mohamed V University in Rabat. A quick glance on the section dedicated to Mauritania reveals serious factual flaws:

The introduction to the Mauritanian constitution assured its commitment to democratic values as defined in the International Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the African Covenant for Human Rights (1981). The constitutional amendment of 1991 defined a variety of rights which are guaranteed to the Mauritanian people, including the right to equality, freedoms and basic human rights, the right to property, political freedoms, freedoms for trade unions, economic and social rights

Understandably, the chronic shortage of research material on Mauritania produces this assessment which is factually and historically wrong. The author seems to not know that when Mauritanian’s 1991 constitution was put on referendum, the citizens voted for a constitution of 103 articles. After the vote, Mauritanians were surprised by the addition of a 104th article stating:

La législation et la réglementation en vigueur dans la République Islamique de Mauritanie restent applicables tant qu’elles n’auront pas été modifiées dans les formes prévues par la présente Constitution.

This meant that in effect, the 1991 constitution was emptied of any perceived gains in terms of  protections and guarantees for political freedoms. By adding article 104, the laws promulgated under the CMSN (military junta ruling since July 1978) regime were maintained. These were the laws that former President Taya used to repress his opposition and retain extraordinary powers of arrest, surveillance and detention from 1991 until 2005.

It is no accident that the constitutional reform of 2005-with its problematic article 102- removed article 104 at the request of all political actors in the country. See for example this quote from Le Calame published on the UFP’s site concerning the infamous article during the post 2005 coup transition:

Pour ce qui est du fameux article 104, les participants ont exigé son abrogation, car il est jugé illégitime pour avoir été ajouté au texte de la constitution de juillet 91. L’article qui portera désormais (à titre symbolique) le numéro 103 sera reformulé pour garantir à la fois la continuité du droit, et la nécessaire adaptation des lois et règlements antérieurs aux nouveaux droits et libérés consacrés par la Loi fondamentale.

The issue at hand is not that a professor got her history wrong, it is rather that this blatant violation of the principles of constitutional rule was largely ignored by Mauritania’s main donor countries. between 1991 and 2005 the Taya regime-fraudulent elections included- was considered legitimate and legal by many in the west  because of larger interests and geopolitical realities. Mauritania’s political class is not blameless,  it never managed to formulate a cohesive vision convincing enough to foreign powers to contemplate an alternative to Taya’s authoritarian rule. Naturally, it paid the price in the form of the 20 years of Ould Taya’s dictatorial reign.

Alas, this is not an issue of the past: the same pattern is discernible in big powers’ choice to ignore massive fraud that “legitimized” General Aziz’s election back in July 2009. Interestingly, Aziz’s newest tool, the anti-terror law, reflects some of the same murkiness as Ould Taya’s constitution; an elastic definition of terrorism that also allows up to 4 years of preventive detention in “terrorism” cases. It even has a vague reference to constitutional rights without any specifics.  Today as well, it remains to be seen whether big powers will yet again be content with the appearance of legality over legitimacy in order to pursue vital interests.

Just to name a few names: Jemal Mubarak, Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh, Seyif Alislam Qaddafi are real reminders that the challenge of realpolitik does apply beyond to Mauritania to the entire Arab region as many regimes are nearing their biological expiration date; many leaders are aging and are busy engineering their monarchical succession under the cover of republican constitutional legality…

Hunger Strike Over

12 01 2010

The House of Bliss

After a major scare, reported in the previous post, Hanevy issued a letter announcing his decision to end his hunger strike. While his decision is wise given his health situation, and despite the government’s determination to keep him in jail where he remains.

His decision came after his former Qur’anic teacher Sheikh Mohamed Vall Ould Abddallhi Bah (a prominent cleric) asked him to do so to preserve his life arguing that “all Abrahamic faiths forbid the infliction of self-harm.”

After providing the context of his decision to enter a hunger strike to protest his arbitrary detention, Hanevy thanked all those who supported him and showed solidarity with him, he further explained his decision saying:

I cannot turn down the request of my teacher, a man of God, who never sought the favor of any ruler nor any proximity to his court. I decided that as of today, 1/12/2010 I shall cease my hunger strike.

I recall here the advice I received through an intermediary from my friend, the great Tunisian human rights activist Moncef Marzouki; he recommended that I limit the period of my hunger strike given the severe health complications that might ensue. He gave me this advice as one of the most brilliant physicians in the Maghreb, and not as a courageous human rights advocate.

I took this decision in consultation with the Mauritanian Journalist Union

Contrary to earlier reports, his jailers refused to allow him to be transported outside the prison to receive treatment after his fall:

I cannot but state for the record the inhumane treatment I received in prison after I lost consciousness yesterday [Monday]  I was not transported outside of the prison to receive healthcare. The prison doctor turned off his phone all day long. This allowed the prison guards and the warden to hide behind the excuse that only the doctor could allow me to be moved to the National Hospital Center.

While courageous and inspiring, Hanevy clearly understands that we do not need martyrs, but outspoken journalists to keep rulers in check. After all, in the eyes of a despot, the only good journalist is a muzzled journalist.

Haram in the House of Bliss!

11 01 2010

Hanevy on the day he was arrested

The news from the House of Bliss (Dar Naim Jail) is not good; Hanevy fell on his head on his way back to his cell and is semi-comatose according to the latest reports. The government sent a military doctor to asses his status. The verdict is that he needs x-rays to evaluate any possible internal injuries. A great source of concern is that the authorities blocked any visits to Hanevy since his fall which raises grave concerns over his prognosis: What is there to hide?

Interestingly, a cleric urged Hanevy to end his hunger strike because it is a form of suicide. This blogger’s response: is it Haram to combat injustice? Isn’t silence in the face of tyranny a sin?

Today, the head of Mauritania’s opposition, former presidential candidate and chairman of the RFD party, joined a sit-in at Nouakchott’s courthouse. The event was called for and organized by the Journalist Union to demand Hanevy’s release.

Daddah was not the only political leader to advocate for Hanevy, in fact, Noma Bint Mogaye (featured previously on Dekhnstan) among others, demanded his release in an interview where she attacked General Aziz. To them his case is about the future of freedoms and liberties of Mauritanians under the increasingly authoritarian General Aziz.

He was featured extensively during the parliamentary debate over the new Anti-Terror Law. In the process of the debate, private sources in the opposition informed this blogger that the said law is plagiarized from Tunisia’s own anti-terror law with the difference that the Tunisian version had relatively more protections for the citizens. It should be said that while Tunisia is not exactly a model on civil liberties, General Aziz is drawing on the example of some of the worse human rights abusers in the world; it gives observers insights into his real ambitions.

In other news, if you type Mauritania in Google News, or twitter, most of the return hits you will get are about the unfortunate westerner hostages (Spaniards, French, Italian) kidnapped by Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb in November and December of last year. This is a far cry from the content of Mauritanian news sites where the issue has been given minimum attention.

These hostages’ plight deserves our sympathy and our prayers go to them and their families in the hope for their safe return to their homes and families. We also hope that the Mauritanian government will get its act together and wipe out from the face of the earth, once and for all, those terrorists behind these acts.

Unfortunately, the reality is such that Mauritanians are focused on their own domestic problems trying to fight off a tyrannical regime with every legal and peaceful venue amidst international indifference.

While, the world’s concern over the growth of Al-Qaeda in the Sahel is commendable and justifiable, policy makers ought to remember that terrorism is not vanquished only by bombs and guns. The best hope to prevent this criminal gang from growing is winning the goodwill of local citizens by showing-  rather than talking- a commitment to their liberties and freedoms.

The RIM Patriot Act

8 01 2010

General Aziz

The RIM Patriot Act: If The Cowboy Had A Mustache

Mauritania’s specialist on the blogosphere, the Moor Next Door and the Sahel blog zoomed on an often overlooked aspect of the rise of AQIM in the Sahel and particularly Mauritania. For instance Kal points out that General Aziz’ ever growing appetite for absolute power marked by the passage by a new Mauritanian anti-terror law:

The government’s claim that it needs a stronger anti-terror law to pursue militants by monitoring their phones and rummage through their homes and belongings with ease does not impress the opposition. These powers recall arbitrary and despotic tendencies, used under the Ould Tayya regime to suppress dissent be it secular or lefist, Ba’thist or Islamist.

As far as Mauritania is concerned, AQIM’s lack of urban infrastructure and operational bases-they are in the desert, let’s not forget-makes it hard to accept wholesale the government’s drive to pass such legislation. Simply put, those measures could be useful and perhaps warranted if we were indeed dealing with an urban insurgency, with extensive recruiting and logistical networks, let’s even say in a 4GW environment like the case in Iraq. In that case, these tools would be useful to collect, analyze the necessary intelligence to defeat the enemy.

A simple glance, even for non-specialist, past a vaguely phrased opening about “the law not contradicting the constituional rights of citizens” one sees a Damocles sword that will be hanging over the heads of any dissenters (my translation):

Article 2: A terrorist crime is, under this law, the crime [sic..] mentioned in articles 3, 4, 5 detailed hereafter: [an act] by nature or context that may constitute a grave threat to the country, committed willingly with the intention of terrorizing the population. or to compel the authorities to act unwarrantedly in a manner they are not compelled to. or with the goal [for the authorities] to not perform [duties] they are duty-bound to perform. or to undermine society’s political values and threatening the structures; the constitutional, political, economical, social institutions of the nation. or [committing acts] destined to undermine the interest of other nations or international organizations.”

Vague and elastic phrasing would allow the government to label anyone who fits under the dubious “undermining of the institutions” or “compelling the state to act or not act” as a terrorist.  now, the law moves from paranoia to dive deeply into the absurd :

Article 3: A terrorist crime is according to the conditions set forth in article 2, is not limited to:

1- Threatening the state’s internal or external security

3- Crimes related to computers: “cybernetic” [crimes]

4- Violations of maritime navigation, aviation and land transportation

So the infamous and unspecific “threatening the state’s internal and external security” charge leveled at any political dissenter worthy of the name in Mauritania’s history is squarely labeled a terrorist crime, so are undefined “computer crimes.”

So say, you are known to not like General Aziz, and that you drive your car recklessly, and that you are stopped and found in possession of illegal software, or an unlocked phone, then the immortal words of Jeff Dunham’s “Achmed the dead terrorist” apply here: “Silence, I kill you!”

The law goes on classifying the illegal possession of weapons as a terrorist crime; it is already a custom tailored charge as most Mauritanian households posses firearms as a matter of tribal custom.

To quote this law, the above few examples are not exhaustive. They are just quickly picked samples of how dangerous and arbitrary this law will be for the freedoms and rights of Mauritanian citizens. Rightly, the law provoked the opposition’s ire.

Foreign observes should remember the following two points:

1- The most devastating terrorist attacks committed on Mauritanian soil were committed during General Aziz’ stint as strongman both under deposed President Abdallahi, and after he overthrew him in August 2008. The General is clearly incompetent on the question, and it is hard to make the case for this new law knowing that the previous 2005 anti-terrorism law already gave the government sweeping powers.

2- General Aziz proved already that he has no regard for the law by detaining Taqadoumy’s editor Hanevy Ould Dahah past the end of his dubious 6 month jail sentence.

The law mentions the making and possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction, ordinary Mauritanians hard pressed for power and clean water are already mocking the General by saying: “get us power and water long enough and we will put the Iranians to shame: we will start world war 3.”

Finally, unlike our American lawmakers who did not read the fine print of our patriot act back in 2001, the Mauritanian opposition is raising hell about there’s.

More to come later.

Sympathetic Faces and Harsh Realities

6 01 2010

Mauritania Foreign Minister Ms Naha Bint Mouknass

Mauritanian women power yet again sets the day for me, in this Alarabiya piece we learn that Mauritania’s foreign minister-the only Arab woman ever to hold that position- Naha Bint Mouknass (الناهة بنت مكناس) decided to stay with ordinary people in Cairo’s airport rather than going to the VIP room during a stop on the way to Damascus.

As a Mauritanian, I was proud to see that Ms Mouknass unlike her boss General Aziz is keeping to some of the spirit of modesty our founding fathers adhered to. Including her late father Hamdi Ould Mouknass, foreign minister under late-president Moctar Ould Daddah- Mauritania’s George Washington.

However, I cannot let this feel good moment blind me  to the real face of  the current ruling regime she serves. just today leading Arab human rights activist Syrian Haitham Manaa, wrote an op-ed highlighting the plight of  Algerian worker Mariam Mahdi on hunger strike for 25 days now protesting her firing by British Gas for deciding to wear a headscarf, and Hanevy Ould Dahah who has been on a hunger strike for the last 9 days to protest his arbitrary detention.

Manaa, following the lead of the Cairo-based Arab Network for Human Rights (ANHRI) in dubbing Hanevy a “prisoner of opinion”, praised the hard work of Mauritania’s Journalist Union defending Hanevy so did the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

As, the support and solidarity with Hanevy grow, I hope that Ms Meknass will be astute enough to explain to her boss that holding a journalist on hunger strike to protest being held after finishing his sentence is simply a bad way to get any good will from the rest of the world.

In fact, I urge her as the guardian of Mauritania’s good name, and as head of a political party to take a principled position: urge General Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz to FREE HANEVY.

Is that too much to ask?

Mauritanian Woman MP to General Aziz: hypocrite!

3 01 2010

MP Bint Mogaya Blating Aziz, for video: http://bit.ly/8KiGoT

Meet MP Nomma Bint Mogaya, Mauritanian MP who gave an explosive speech in the last days of 2009 at parliament denouncing General Aziz. This is not something you see everyday in the Mauritanian parliament, let alone other Arab parliaments; an MP, a woman, defying and denouncing the dictator in the harshest and most candid words and busting taboos in the process.

Her remarks were censored by the state-owned TV. The 8 minute video surfaced later on the internet and has made a major buzz in Mauritania, and is finally translated and transcribed to English by this blogger in this video.

The background of the story is that Aziz who christened himself “the president of the poor” went on a political witch hunt against his political opponents under the guise of an anti-corruption campaign already covered by the Moor Next Door here:

The references to corruption are meant to refer to Ould Abdel Aziz’s relationship with Mohamed Bouamatou, one of Mauritania’s wealthiest men. It should be understood in the context of the false anti-corruption activities of the current government, causing much indignation and irritation in the country.

Bint Mogaye’s remarks to the uninitiated, is a long laundry list of grievances against General Aziz and former ruler Maaouiya Ould Taya including her struggle against Aziz’ August 2008 coup. However, what is remarkable about it is the candor and the defying tone as she blasted everything that moved under the sun in Mauritania: Corruption, tribalism, racism, dictatorship, the economy telling Aziz directly: “أنت و الله مانك رئيس الفقراء، أنت رئيس البطاشة” which roughly translates to: “By God, you are not the president of the poor, you are the president of the destroyers.”

Nomma also reminded her audience that General Aziz betrayed his master Ould Taya when he used his position as his trusted head of the presidential guard to topple him in 2005 him with harsh words:

The coup was lead by his son (Aziz) that he raised, Taya raised him only so that Aziz would eat him

Translation from polite “Moorish-Speak”: Aziz is an unreliable traitor.

Nomma also eluded to Aziz’ Moroccan origins which is another taboo that no one in parliament has dared to talk about:

“..A Mauritanian will win then we can talk..”

Non-Mauritanians, will be puzzled by the long quotes from the Qur’an and might be led to believe that this is some Islamist rant. Not the case.  Traditionally, Moorish women are schooled in Qur’an and jurisprudence and include some highly regarded scholars (faqihat) . So, Nomma’s choice of verses was brilliant and subtle. She used verses reminding Aziz that he is watched by God and  end paused to have her fellow MP’s continue a devastating verse calling Aziz in essence a hypocrite who is deaf, blind and dumb to the truth. Of course, she quoted the one text that no MP, nor Aziz himself could interrupt her while reciting and had them condemn themselves by reciting the verse. After mocking them in the same sentence saying to them:

See, here’s my gift to you, a prayer free of charge

The true genius of Nomma’s remarks is that she denounced Aziz’ self-appointed label of the “President of the Poor” by referring to  Aziz’ cousin (same tribe of Oulad Bisba أولاد بسبع أولاد بني السبع) and loyalist Tycoon Mohamed Ould Bouamatou without mentioning him by name. She simply referred to his alleged implication in drug trafficking and to cigarettes because he is the sole representative of Philip Morris in Mauritania. Thus managing to open a topic no one so far dared to raise in parliament.

Note: this post is my contribution to the Kolena Laila campaign.

Aziz: Hanevy isn’t my problem

3 01 2010

General Aziz & his top ally Colonel Kaddafi

Hanevy today has been on hunger strike for a week and his health is deteriorating. Yet, the Mauritanian government remains determined to keep him locked up. General Aziz told members of parliament yesterday:

“Hanevy’s case does not concern me and I will not intervene in it. Hanevy was not arrested during my rule. I have not arrested a single journalist. His case is a matter for the courts.”

Regardless of how disingenuous these statements are, General Aziz did in the past say in a meeting with journalists on November, 1 2009:

“..it is better for Hanevy to remain in jail for his own safety, so that he wouldn’t be kidnapped or killed by the people he writes about all day long..”

As you can see, there is a pattern. The judges are taking their cues from Aziz. They interpreted his November statement and implemented their boss’ wishes: “Keep Hanevy locked up even if his sentence is up” which was what happened on December 24.

Hanevy’s plight is already gathering attention. Tunisian dissident Moncef Marzouki and the head of the Arab Committee for Human Rights Syrian Haitham Manaa, two of the most prominent Human Rights activists in the Arab world are already demanding his releases. They were reached by phone by the head of Mauritania’s journalists union.

Speaking of Mauritanian journalists, they are on strike anyway today; no press was printed today because of the sharp rise in printing costs.

Interestingly, RFI picked a report issued by the Mauritanian Bar Association decrying the conditions  the infamous House of Bliss a.k.a Dar Naim prison where Hanevy is held, the conclusion are devastating according to the report:

-Overcrowded: Dar Naim prison was built to house 300 inmates, now there are a 1000 inmates in because of the excessive use of preventive detention. There are people who have been on preventive detention since 2002,2003, 2004 who still await trail for offenses whose punishment are shorter than the time already spent in.

-Violence, infectious diseases, torture: the prison does not have healthcare services, the overcrowding of cells is ideal for the spread of diseases. Add to that the constant violence among the inmates and the torture practiced by the guards.

The House of Bliss

1 01 2010

Yesterday, after five days of hunger strike, a doctor visited Hanevy in his prison, and he concluded that his blood pressure is too low and asked him to stop his hunger strike. Hanevy thanked him and said: No.

His lawyers led by longtime Human Rights attorney Brahim Ould Ebetty, outraged by the arbitrary detention of their client, hit back with a statement announcing their intention to file lawsuits against judicial officials and their accomplices responsible for Hanevy’s extrajudicial imprisonment.

Internationally, Jillian York, Bostonian activist and author, fired the first shot in the advocacy for Hanevy right at the Obama administration. In her Huffington Post piece entitled “Sex, Obama and a Mauritanian Dissident“, York puts this case in the larger Arab context and points out that this is another sign that Obama administration is not living up to its own (emphasis is mine) promises of embracing reform and human rights in the Arab/Muslim world in last year’s highly publicized Cairo speech:

In President Obama’s much-vaunted 2009 speech in Cairo, he made a commitment to supporting reform in the Arab world. Though there was plenty in the speech to criticize, many advocates for free speech saw this as a welcome change and hoped for genuine follow-through. Yet, 2009 has been a terrible year for free speech throughout the region: Six journalists were killed, and more than75 bloggers and cyber-dissidents linger in prisons. And the Western media remains mostly silent.

While the Obama Cairo speech asked Arab youth to remake the world, York explained how that was the case of Ould Dahah:

Hanevy Ould Dahah is an interesting case: educated in Mauritania’s Qur’anic schools, he chose a path of rebellion and staunch liberalism, opposing the military coup and daring to return to Mauritania after a stint in the U.S., knowing full well how much the Mauritanian government despised him. He was arrested only a week after returning to Mauritania earlier this year.

She also pointed out why Hanevy spent six months in jail:

Yet when it comes to issues of free speech and reform, the Western media is hopelessly silent. Hanevy Ould Dahah has been sitting in jail for six months for publishing an anonymous comment from a woman which read “I want to have sex…I am free” on Taqadoumy, the popular site Hanevy edits. On December 24, Hanevy’s sentence was up, but authorities refused to release him; the judge claimed that Hanevy cannot be released because the appeals court doesn’t have his file.

York informs us as well that the US government has been silent on Hanevy’s case despite it offering Mauritania access to preferential trade terms along with other African states just a day before Hanevy’s sentence ended. However, the African Growth and Opportunity Act was not extended to Guinea, Madagascar and Niger because these nations according to the white house  ” saw undemocratic transfers of power which [are] incompatible with making progress toward establishing the rule of law or political pluralism.

To this blogger, it is beyond dispute that holding a journalist and a social entrepreneur after ending his already highly dubious jail sentence is indeed incompatible with “progress toward establishing the rule of law or political pluralism.”

In the meantime, Hanevy remains locked up in the Dar Naim prison, Arabic speakers will appreciate the irony; the prison’s name means House of Bliss.

Happy New Year Hanevy and I hope to see you free sooner than later.

“I Am The State, I Am The Law”

30 12 2009

General Aziz: "I Am the State, I Am the Law"

News websites published today the judge’s ruling ordering Hanevy’s preventive detention. The document states that he is to remain in custody because the appeals court doesn’t have his file. In plain English, the legalese of the document roughly says: “It’s the prison warden and the appeals’ judge’s responsibility to decide  an inmate’s release, the ball is in their court.” Hanevy’s lawyers point out that the judge could have ordered his release but stopped short of that in his ruling.

Hat’s tip to Mauritanian journalists and Hanevy’s relatives. They organized a a sit-in at the UN’s Nouakchott offices to protest their colleagues unfair detention after the police prevented them from doing so in front of Nouakchott’s courthouse.

Reports Without Borders (RSF) joined the fray today calling the detention “a violation of current [Mauritanian] laws” and holding the government responsible for his health and demanding his immediate release.

The whole situation is sarcastically summed up by the cartoon above: in a country whose motto is “Honor, Brotherhood, Justice”: lawyers pointing out that Mauritania’s worst dictator had a minimum regard for due course are rebuffed by General Aziz: “I am the state, I am the law, I appoint whoever I want, I jail whoever I want. Move on!”

For me, the lesson to be drawn from today’s events is that Mauritania has a civil society and that its members are standing up because they understand that this case is about their freedoms too. Also, this case fits in the new repressive trend in the Arab World: governments are increasingly resorting to pseudo-legal tactics to repress their political opponents.

In the meantime, today is day 3 in Hanevy’s hunger strike.


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