Abderrahmane Weddady and Cheikh Ould Jiddou, who both regularly post on Facebook about alleged cases of embezzlement by the government, were arrested on 22 March after being summoned for questioning by the Nouakchott prosecutor’s office.
They were arrested for reproducing and commenting on reports by Arabic-language bloggers and media such as Al-Jazeera, Al-Quds and Al-Arabiya that the authorities in the United Arab Emirates had frozen an account containing 2 billion dollars that was set up by persons close to Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.
On the day of their arrest, the Mauritanian justice department had issued a statement condemning reports “without any basis” and announcing that it would “identify the sources of these erroneous reports” and prosecute those “responsible for disseminating them.”
According to the information obtained by RSF, the prosecutor-general questioned the two bloggers and then asked an investigating judge to detain them. They were transferred to Nouakchott central prison on 27 March, two days after police searched Weddady’s home and confiscated a computer.
“We call for the immediate release of these two bloggers whose arrests have all the hallmarks of a witch-hunt organized by the Mauritanian authorities in order to deter bloggers, journalists and media outlets from broaching this sensitive subject,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “Suppressing criticism just months before a presidential election sends a disturbing signal about the quality and openness of the public debate that is essential for credible elections.”
The two bloggers were already summoned and questioned about the same case by the economic and financial crimes squad in early March, when their identity papers were confiscated.
At the same time, the two bloggers have been covering a scam in which many families were fraudulently deprived of real estate properties they owned. In February, Weddady published photos of the records of real estate sales that allegedly showed that the government was involved in the scam.
As Mauritania prepares for a presidential election in June, RSF continues to be very worried about the fate of Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed Mkhaitir, a blogger whose death sentence for apostasy in 2014 was commuted to two years in prison in 2017. He should have been released two and a half years ago, but he is still being held incommunicado.
Mauritania is ranked 72nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.