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» 20.07.2009 - Abdelaziz wins elections, opposition claim irregularities
» 05.06.2009 - Mauritania's democracy deal hailed
» 03.06.2009 - Mauritania election compromise reached
» 02.06.2009 - Mediators push for later elections in Mauritania
» 28.05.2009 - Mauritanian parties at the negotiations table
» 20.05.2009 - Thousands demand Junta to scrap elections
» 14.05.2009 - Mauritania editor narrowly escapes death
» 17.04.2009 - Mauritania's former ruling party: abort electoral process

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Politics | Human rights | Media

Basic freedoms being restored in Mauritania

afrol News, 7 September - While uniformed men are present all over post-coup Nouakchott, people in the Mauritanian capital are confident that the new military junta is serious about pro-democracy reforms. Mauritania's plagued free press is optimistic about the restoring of the freedom of expression within short time.

Mauritania's few truly independent newspapers still have to deliver their editions to the Germany-funded state-controlled printer, where the Ministry of the Interior goes through every word and sentence. If something is found to be too critical against the regime, censorship is hard and total. The entire circulation of the newspaper is confiscated.

"The structures of the old regime's censorship still are existent," Mint Ainina Hindou told afrol News. Ms Hindou is editor-in-chief of 'Le Calame', a weekly newspaper that survived the frequent attacks and attempts of corrupting it by the old regime. "We still need an authorisation from the Ministry of the Interior for each and every edition of the newspaper."

However, she does not fear censorship in the same way as before the 3 August coup d'état. So far, no edition of the outspoken weekly has been censored since the coup. The junta in power indeed has started a dialogue with the independent press and other parts of civil society. Ms Hindou and her colleagues are impressed by the signals from the junta, which is asking stakeholders for proposals instead of issuing new decrees.

Also Mamoudou Sy, director of the weekly 'Eveil Hebdo', is strongly optimistic by the signals from the new regime. He started the 'Eveil' in 1991, the same year privately owned newspapers were legalised in Mauritania. During a few years of liberty, a large number of independent publications were born. Few survived as the old regime again started cracking down on the press in the mid-1990s. Many were forced to close, some were paid well to publish pro-government news and a few endured.

Now, both 'Le Calame' and 'Eveil Hebdo' are planning to make use of the positive situation to become dailies. Mr Sy told afrol News that he had already presented his newspaper's application to the Interior Ministry. Ms Hindou is in the process of doing the same. Both are expecting less bureaucracy than on previous occasions, when their applications were turned down.

Colonel Ely Ould Mohamad Vall, Mauritania's current military Head of state, has more than indicated that press freedom shall be restored, in line with other basic freedoms. The Colonel already has had a meeting with representatives of the private press - although not including the most independent media - asking for "concrete proposals" on how to reform the sector.

The clearest sign of a will to change was the naming of Moussa Hamed as the new director of the state news agency AMI, which until now only had served as a propaganda machine for the old regime. Mr Hamed is a former director of 'Le Calame', a man which independent media say will lead AMI while keeping his integrity.

Mr Hamed told afrol News that he already has defined a clear programme on how to transform AMI into a public service dedicated to "professional journalism and transparency." While recognising that the agency earlier mostly served to misinform, the new AMI director promises that from now on, state media will be "opened to all political actors of the country, not only to the regime." Equal plans existed for state broadcasters, Mr Hamed claimed. So far, he said, he had "not received any instructions or restrictions from the news regime."

The experienced media leader however agreed that reforms had yet to start. Recalling his time at 'Le Calame', Mr Hamed confirmed there were "many restrictions" on how the press can operate in Mauritania. But in the current period of transition, "I think the problems of freedom of expression will now be solved." There were however many risks on the way to introduce real democracy in the country, Mr Hamed added.

While the press is optimistic about future reforms, other sectors have already experienced real changes since Colonel Vall took power one month ago. New opposition parties have already been allowed to register and political prisoners have been set free. Trade unions have been promised "a national pact" and economic transparency is becoming a national issue of debate.

So far, Colonel Vall is experiencing a very romantic honeymoon with Mauritanians at large. Optimism, it seems, has not been greater since independence.

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