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.

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.

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:

“ 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.

Hanevy Starts a Hunger Strike

28 12 2009

The first hunger strike of the decade in his country is by Mauritania’s Hanevy Ould Dahah, director of news website, after he finished his (illegal) 6-month sentence on December 24, the authorities REFUSE to release him and offer no legal explanation whatsoever.

This case generated a lot of protest in Mauritania and was covered by Aljazeera among others. Mauritanian journalists issued a statement holding the government responsible for Hanevy’s health and organized a protest in front of the UN offices in Nouakchott.

Mauritania’s main opposition party (RFD) and the coalition of opposition parties condemned the measure and demanded his immediate release.

Dahah announced his hunger strike in a letter transmitted by his lawyers explaining his motives:

ورغم أنني مستعد لأن أُسلم روحي ثمنا لإيماني العميق بقيم الديمقراطية ورفضي الذي لا يعرف حدودا لجبروت الديكتاتورية وصلفها فإنني أعلن احتجاجي على السجن التحكمي الذي يعتبر أنكي ضروب الاستبداد، من خلال الدخول ابتداء من اليوم الأحد 27/12/2009 في إضراب مفتوح عن الطعام، إلى أن يرفع عني هذا الظلم، الذي لا يبرره سوي الانتقام مني بسبب موقفي المناوئ للانقلاب، رغم أنه أكثر المواقف التي أتشرف بها في مسيرة نضالي من اجل الحرية

“I am ready to pay with my life for my deep commitment to democratic values, and also [because of] my categorical rejection of dictatorship’s oppression and arrogance, I protest my preventive incarceration which is the cruelest form of tyranny. I enter in an open hunger strike starting today sunday 12/27/2009 until I am freed of this injustice motivated by my opposition to the [Aziz led August 2008] coup. My opposition to the coup is the position I am most proud of through my entire struggle for freedom.”

Today is day 2 of Hanevy’s hunger strike and he is reported to have had a glass of juice only.

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