Attacks on the Press 1999: Mauritania

Mauritania’s press remained at the mercy of strict laws that give the government broad discretion to close down outspoken newspapers. The infamous Article 11 of the 1991 press ordinance has been the authorities’ weapon of choice against critical independents for much of the past decade. It grants the authorities broad power to ban the distribution of any newspaper deemed detrimental to Islam or state authority, threatening to public order, or defamatory to heads of foreign states. In April, for example, the independent weekly Le Calame was hit with a three-month ban, apparently in response to a story alleging that Mauritania had agreed to bury Israeli nuclear waste.

Such arbitrary closures have encouraged Mauritanian journalists to censor themselves on politically sensitive issues, since prolonged or frequent suspensions can push most papers into financial ruin. Such was the case with the independent weekly Mauritanie Nouvelles, which closed for good in 1998 after years of heavy government censorship and closure orders.

April 7

Mauritania’s Ministry of Interior slapped a three-month ban on both the Arabic and the French-language editions of the independent weekly Le Calame. No reason was given for the ban, which was imposed in accordance with the country’s press code. Local journalists, suspect however, that the move came in response to an article the paper published alleging that Israel had paid the Mauritanian government US$20 million to bury nuclear waste in the Sahara desert.