Mauritanian authorities should immediately release bloggers Abderrahmane Weddady and Cheikh Ould Jiddou and stop detaining journalists on false news charges, the Committee to Protect Journalists said.
Weddady and Jiddou each responded to a summons by Mauritania’s Economic Crimes Unit on March 22 and have been detained since then, according to posts on each blogger’s Facebook page and Nasser Weddady, the blogger’s brother, who spoke with CPJ.
The two are currently being held at Dar Naim prison, Weddady’s brother said, and are awaiting trial after being charged with “spreading false news.” Nasser Weddady added that each blogger was subject to an 18-hour interrogation on March 25 without a lawyer present.
“The jailing of Abderrahmane Weddady and Cheikh Ould Jiddou is an outrage, and the charges against them demonstrate how allegations of ‘false news’ are weaponized against journalists who are critical of those in power,” CPJ Advocacy Director Courtney Radsch said from Washington, D.C. “Mauritanian authorities must free both bloggers immediately and stop persecuting the news media.”
Jiddou and Weddady have reported on corruption in Mauritania, including on allegations that President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz misappropriated funds, had a $2 billion account in the United Arab Emirates, and benefited from illicit real estate schemes run by his friend, according to Weddady’s brother and newsreports.
President Abdel Aziz has denied the allegations that he misappropriated funds, and Finance Minister Moctar Ould Diay said that the president’s friend acted according to the law, according to news reports. The Mauritanian Embassy in Washington, D.C., did not answer the phone when CPJ called to request comment on the bloggers’ detention and charges, as well as the allegations against the president. An email to the office of the Mauritanian ambassador to the U.S. seeking comment on the bloggers’ case and on the allegations against the president did not receive a response.
Both bloggers were summoned by the Economic Crimes Unit in early March and questioned about their reporting on the misappropriation allegations against the president, and were asked why they did not file an official complaint rather than writing about it online, according to Weddady’s brother, who added that authorities seized the bloggers’ passports and identification cards after the interrogation was finished.
Nasser Weddady told CPJ that his brother is prediabetic, and therefore needs to eat at regular intervals; he said that while his family has been bringing food to Dar Naim prison for his brother, he does not believe it is being given to him in a timely manner.
Last year, Mauritanian authorities jailed two journalists for a week over a defamation complaint from a businessman whom they alleged had ties to the government, according to CPJ reporting.