Mauritania charges seven activists but drops case against feminists

A man with a protective mask walks in the street in Nouakchott on February 24, 2020 as a huge sandstorm reaches Mauritania after the Canarian islands.
A man with a protective mask walks in the street in Nouakchott on February 24, 2020 as a huge sandstorm reaches Mauritania after the Canarian islands.
Image: Carmen Abd Ali / AFP

Seven people accused of being members of a Mauritanian group seeking to reform the conservative Islamic republic were charged with terrorism crimes against Islam, their lawyer said on Wednesday.

However no charges were brought were against two high-profile feminists whose arrest in the capital Nouakchott in mid-February, along with 12 other activists, provoked outcry from Amnesty International.

The 14 were accused of belonging to the Arem group (Alliance for the Re-foundation of the Mauritanian State), which was formed in Paris this year to work for "an end to the old practices of bad governance, injustice and impunity".

An anti-terror investigating judge on Wednesday charged seven of the group for "offending the Muslim religion", "insults against Allah" and the Prophet Mohammed by publishing computer-related content and terrorism, lawyer Sidi Mohamed Ould Boubakar told AFP.

Six of those charged were placed in detention, while the seventh was released under judicial supervision, he added.

Mauritania's justice system on Wednesday also issued arrest warrants against three other suspected Arem members, including members of the diaspora.

But the case was dropped against Aminetou Mint El Moctar, a woman's rights activist and vice-president of Arem, and Mekfoula Mint Brahim, winner of the 2018 Franco-German Prize for Human Rights and the Rule of Law and recipient in December of France's highest accolade, the Legion d'Honneur.

Mint Brahimim denies ever being a member of the group.

Amnesty said on February 19 that it was "extremely concerned" by the arrest of the well-known rights activists and called for their immediate release.

The group was arrested following an unauthorised meeting and the state security service carried out an investigation, according to a judicial source.

The computer-related content in the charges refers to audio recordings sent on the WhatsApp messaging service, the group's lawyer said.

Mauritania's President Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani, who rose to power in August last year, has pledged to engage with the opposition.

But Amnesty has called on him to end the judicial harassment of human rights defenders in the West African country, which follows sharia law.


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