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.