Mauritania to tighten internet control

06 September 2021

Freedom of expression is expected to be more restricted in Mauritania, where the country’s leader says he wants to fight hate messages on the internet.

President Mohamed Ould Cheikh El-Ghazouani revealed his intention to strengthen control over online content. He said the various state departments are already looking at updating legal texts to more effectively regulate the use of the web in the country.

He said this renewed attention to the internet stems from the resurgence of cases of use of the network “to undermine public stability, spread false rumours or spread hatred and incite social groups against others”. This “is unacceptable”, the president added.

The legal review announced by El-Ghazouani comes despite Human Rights Watch’s criticism of the Mauritanian government for its repression of freedom of expression. In its 2020 world report, the international organisation criticizes the state for its use of the cybercrime law to imprison bloggers, political activists and leaders of opposition parties.

Adopted in 2016, the law provides in articles 21, 22, 23 and 24 for maximum prison sentences of four years and maximum fines of US$2m for various actions deemed contrary to morality and the values ​​of Islam, among others.

Greater government control of the Internet, as envisioned by the head of state, could lead to greater surveillance of people’s communications. It would give the state more pretexts on the internet, websites and social media. The move could see the northwest African nation drop from 94th place out of 180 in the 2021 world press freedom ranking of Reporter Without Borders.