- The Mauritanian weekly 'Raya' has been banned by the government for allegedly trying to "sabotage" the government and promoting "intolerance." The weekly, with a moderate Islamist approach, was one of the country's few independent media.
The Mauritanian Islamist weekly 'Raya' has been banned and its offices have been closed under an Interior Ministry order on 1 June 2003. No official explanation to the closure has been given, but 'Raya' was known to publish opposition voices in an otherwise conformist Mauritanian media landscape.
'Raya had previously been told to stop publishing in early May, when some 30 people in Islamist circles were arrested on charges of inciting violence. Those detained included Jamil Mansour, a 'Raya' contributor and Member of Parliament.
'Raya' editor-in-chief Ould Wediaa, who is currently in hiding, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on 30 May that the Mauritanian Interior Ministry had accused the newspaper of trying to "sabotage" the government and promoting "intolerance."
Mr Wediaa further said the newspaper had simply reported the positions of all segments of the political class. He described the Ministry's order as "arbitrary."
The 1 June ban was issued in accordance with Article 11 of the 25 July 1991 press freedom law, which says, "The Interior Ministry may, by decree, ban the circulation, distribution or sale of newspapers [...] that harm the principles of Islam or the credibility of the state, or are detrimental to the general interest or disturb public order and security".
- In such instances, the Interior Ministry is not required to offer any justification for its decisions, according to the Paris-based group Reporters sans Frontičres (RSF).
RSF today voiced its concern about the banning of 'Raya'. "As far as we know, this Islamist publication has never called for violence, contrary to what the Mauritanian authorities say," RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard said.
- One cannot help thinking that this ban on a newspaper that was never sparing in its criticism of the government is simply a means to gag a part of the opposition six months before the presidential election, Mr Ménard added.
The government of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania - as the country officially is called - has been cautious to avoid even moderate Islamist groups to gain ground in the country. To the frustration of the country's mostly Muslim population, Mauritania is also one of very few Arabic countries to formally recognise Israel.
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