GENEVA, Switzerland, June 28, 2019,-/African Media African (AMA)/- The Mauritanian authorities must ensure respect for the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and exercise restraint when policing the protests planned for later today, amid signs of increasing repression in the country including an internet shutdown and arrests of opposition figures, Amnesty International said today.
“This afternoon’s protest is an important medium for the people of Mauritania to express their opinions about the human rights situation in the country following the presidential election,” said François Patuel, Amnesty International’s West Africa Researcher.
“The authorities must exercise restraint in dealing with the protesters, including ensuring their safety and opening up the internet space so that people can freely express themselves and share information.”
Presidential elections took place in Mauritania on 22 June and the internet was shutdown on the 23 June after the ruling party’s candidate, Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, declared he won the election. This constitutes a violation of the right to freedom of expression. It has prevented journalists, human rights defenders and opposition members from freely accessing and exchanging information and should be restored immediately.
In an apparent continuation of the post-election repression, a number of opposition figures have been arrested. These include Samba Thiam, the leader of the Forces progressistes pour le changement (Progressist forces for change); and Cheikhna Mohamed Lemine Cheikh, the campaign manager of the Coalition Sawab/Initiative de resurgence du mouvement abolitionniste (Initiative for the resurgence of the abolitionist movement) in the Ksar neighbourhood in Nouakchott. All of these individuals must be released or charged with a recognizable offence.
“The authorities are justifying their heavy-handed repression by using tired rhetoric that blames foreign nationals from neighboring countries for the election-related protests. This is toxic and highly problematic in a country that is still battling entrenched racial discrimination,” said François Patuel.
“The Mauritanian authorities should immediately stop manipulating divisive and hateful tropes, and instead commit to respect, protecting, promoting and fulfilling everyone’s human rights, including those of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.”
Demonstrations by the opposition groups were scheduled to take place this afternoon in Mauritania to contest the results of the 22 June presidential election. However, the authorities banned the protest and several opposition figures called for it to be postponed. Due to the lack of efficient communication owing to the internet blackout, it is likely protests will still be held today.
The Minister of Interior, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and high-ranking officials in the police force have made public statements blaming foreign nationals for the election-related protests.
On the eve of the elections, Amnesty International and 32 local other human rights organizations called on the presidential candidates to commit to protect and promote human rights, including combatting discriminatory practices and protecting the rights of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.
Distributed by African Media Agency (AMA) on behalf of Amnesty International.