Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Status change explanation: Mauritania's rating improved from Not Free to Partly Free to reflect a relaxation of draconian press laws as well as an opening of the state and private media under the transition government.
Since its inception in 1991, the constitution of Mauritania has provided for freedom of speech and of the press. However, the protection that this has afforded journalists was severely limited by a highly restrictive press code and its famous Article 11, under which the Ministry of the Interior was able to ban and censor newspapers for articles that violated public security, threatened national unity, or contradicted Islam. These restrictive laws were invoked regularly by President Maaouiya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya's administration, and journalists were frequently subject to arbitrary arrest and detentions. However, in August 2005 a group of military officers overthrew the presidency in a bloodless coup while President Taya was out of the country and formed a military council to govern the country in a two-year transition to democracy.
Led by Colonel Ely Ould Mohammed Vall, the new regime has promised a number of reforms to both the draconian press laws and the environment in which journalists must practice. The military council has established the National Commission for Press Reform to address these issues, but the newly formed body has yet to produce any concrete results. Among the reforms promised are the opening of the radio and television sectors, which to date have been monopolized by the government, and the opening of the state-owned media to opposition leaders and a variety of other political opinions. Colonel Vall has followed through on some of these promises by declaring Article 11 obsolete and permitting Radio France Internationale (RFI) to resume its FM broadcasts in December of this year. RFI had been banned from broadcasting in Mauritania since October 2000 by Taya's administration.
Several journalists were arrested this year, including two since the coup. Moulaye Nalim, director of the weekly newspaper Points Chauds, and his assistant were arrested under the penal code for allegedly publishing pornographic images taken at the Nouakchott Civilian Prison. The new government has not expressed any intention of reforming this penal code, under which journalists are subject to one to three years in prison for such publications.
The government continues to own 2 daily newspapers, and approximately 24 privately owned newspapers were able to publish on a regular basis. However, the government owns and operates all broadcast media, including radio, which is the most important source of information for the public. Internet access is available and has been unrestricted by either the former or the transition government, but less than .5 percent of the population has the means to access it. Significant improvements-particularly in the legal and political environment for the media-have been made since August, and more are promised, but we have yet to see whether the new regime understands the real implications of a genuinely free press.