Lax on Terrorists, Brutal on Journalists

17 01 2010

General Aziz: lax on terrorist, brutal on journalists

As anounced in my previous post, the Mauritanian supreme court examined Hanevy’s case and decided that his conviction was illegal. Shockingly, it ordered a second trial for him and kept him in jail to await a new trial for unspecified charges.

According to his defense team leader Attorney Brahim Ould Ebety, contacted by this blogger via phone, “this is a highly illegal procedure”. As hard as it is to believe, but it is also “the first time in all of Mauritania’s history that a case has been handled this way”. Here is why:

1- No laws sanctions electronic publications/content: Hanevy’s conviction on the charge of publishing “indecent content” is an aberration; no Mauritanian law on the books at the time of the trial sanctions, regulates or covers any electronic publications. Despite the judge’s explicit admission of this fact in his ruling, he still went ahead and convicted him nonetheless.

2- The attorney general violated the constitution and prison procedures: per the constitution, and the rules of procedure, Hanevy should have been released on the day he finished his sentenced because the law says very clearly that for a prisoner to be kept in prison, the warden should receive a duly signed order from a judge to admit a prisoner in. It has to be issued for this action to be taken as orders cannot be retroactively reissued.

3- The attorney general completely disregarded the rules and procedures of filing a motion to the supreme court on a case as it is clearly stipulated that should such a move be undertaken, the defense attorney should be notified in advance and has a a 15 day period to respond, then and only then, the case can be legally reviewed by the supreme court.

The reason for this extensive illegal jockeying is the government’s attempt to coverup its bad decisions, as it knows that it is standing on no legal grounds whatsoever, while still punishing Hanevy. In plain colloquial english, they know they messed up but they want another shot only to get the job done right this time. Let’s be clear here, General Aziz is personally out to punish Hanevy for his unrelenting criticism of his regime and methods.

Incredibly, Mr Ahmedou Tidjane Bal, the head of the supreme court was a former legal advisor to the Burundi UN office , and in more recent times a justice minister. He is seen here blithering a few days before Hanevy’s arrest last june at the UN human rights council in Geneva about human rights progresses in Mauritania. This detail is relevant as Mr Bal has a history of violating laws and procedures to satisfy his boss’ political agenda. The latest was his refusal as justice minister to order a district attorney to release former Prime Minister Ould Elwaghef when he was detained in another political witch hunt last year.

Salvador Dali, could not have imagined a better picture to paint; while General Aziz is unleashing his anger on a news website editor, he is fully engaged in a “dialogue” with terrorists validating the Ali Abdullah Saleh axiom: “lax with terrorists, tough with journalists”

A few days ago, the Mauritanian government through representatives from the justice, interior, and Islamic guidance ministries engaged in a bizarre exercise allowing the tenors of Mauritania’s Salafist movement to dialogue with self-confessed Al Qaeda terrorists including Sidina Ould Sidi arrested for shooting French tourists in December 2007, and for rampaging in Nouakchott after escaping from prison to be captured later by French Intelligence in Guinea.

The subject of this charming discussion has been the theory of Jihad, with the “nice” Salafists trying to convince the Al-Qaeda Jihadists, in the words of Ould Sidina, the killer of at least 5 people:

We have always called for dialogue through press interviews and are not against it, but we shall not give up our ideas until we are provided with proof from the Qur’an and the Sunna showing us any errors we may have committed. Otherwise, the other side should follow our opinions if they are are proven correct.

A guard in Nouakchott’s Central Prison is quoted by Saharamedia saying while his colleagues were busy scrubbing the floor and setting up a podium for the next round of dialogue:

This is the first time ever that a podium is set up in the prison to conduct a dialogue. There is no doubt that this is a historical event. We are setting up the space between Mauritania’s ulema and the terrorist (sic.) this looks like a big deal.

Yes, it is a big deal. Khalid Sheikh Mohamed and his fellow terrorists around the world are getting a raw deal. They are never allowed to speak publicly, nor is their terrorist ideology given a platform.

As you can see, the “new Mauritania” under the rule of General Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz is a land where journalists who believe in the rule of law and freedom of speech are crushed, and murderous Al-Qaeda terrorists are free to voice their opinions with the full blessing of said government.

This is an outrage.





When the Magic Turns on the Magician

14 01 2010

Hanevy during his American sojourn

Hanevy Ould Dahah should in theory have his day at the supreme court today (Jan 14) after being suddenly summoned to appear before the highest court in the land. Except that the proceeding will be illegal. Make no mistake, the Mauritanian government did not suddenly discover that it erred in this case, it is merely trying to coverup its already highly illegal treatment of Hanevy. In fact, the authorities may convict him to another sentence!

His lawyers led by veteran human right activist attorney Brhaim Ould Ebetty hit back with a complaint duly filed against the officials involved in Hanevy’s extrajudicial punishment. For the record, they are:

- Ly Amadou Ciré, district attorney at Nouakchott’s regional court
– Ahmed Ould Wely, government attorney at the appeals court
– Mariata Kane, penitentiary service and penal affairs director
– Ahmed Ould Cheikh, the Dar Naim prison facility warden

In an interview on Taqadoumy, Ould Ebetty  is paraphrased explaining this round of government legal jockying:

Whether it yields a release or an additional sentence, the outcome of tomorrow’s hearing is illegal and will not be accepted by Hanevy or his defense [team] we have already shown what the law says on this matter in our last affidavit to the supreme court.

Still according to Ould Ebetty, the defense team is also considering taking Hanevy’s case before international courts in case the Mauritanian supreme court fails in its duties to restore Hanevy’s freedom.

Incidentally, in another twist, the complaint against the officials behind Hanevy’s detention was filed with..District Attorney Ly Amadou Ciré, the very same who initiated this entire mess. He lodged the complaint and delivered the plaintiffs with a receipt, exactly as mandated by law.

Although it is easy to blame Messieurs Ciré et al for their manifest lack of moral courage, they are not the ones to blame. Hanevy’s ordeal is sanctioned by the highest authorities in Mauritania: General Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz. The system Mauritanians live under is such that he, and he alone, has the power of life and death on anyone foolish enough to cross him.

Buckle your seat belts and cross your finger.





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?








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