Tunisia: Rights group demands freedom for Mauritanian opposition leader

Tunis, Tunis (PANA) – Human Rights Watch (HRW) is asking the Mauritanian authorities to free opposition leader, Mohamed Ould Ghadda, or grant him a prompt and fair trial, if they have sufficient evidence to try him for a recognizable criminal offence.

The human rights watchdog said in a statement on Thursday the Mauritanian authorities have detained Ghadda for two months on "vague corruption charges".

HRW said the Mauritanian officials arrested Ghadda on 10 August, 2017, five days after Mauritanians voted in a referendum to dissolve the country’s Senate, of which Ghadda was a member.

Ghadda was an outspoken opponent of that vote, which the opposition characterised as a move by President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz to consolidate power and possibly prepare constitutional changes that would permit him to serve beyond his current second term in office.

“The longer Mohamed Ould Ghadda is held without the court clarifying the charges against him, the more this case appears to be about silencing opposition to the president rather than about delivering justice,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

A judge is investigating Ghadda on charges of corruption of a state public servant under the 2016 Law to Combat Corruption, his lawyer, Ahmed Salem Bouhoubeyni, told Human Rights Watch.

The Law to Combat Corruption provides a prison sentence from 10 to 20 years for an elected official who offers or accepts a bribe.

HRW said Ghadda’s only appearance in court so far, on 31 August, was a preliminary one, at which the judge did not question him on the substance of the case. He has been interrogated about financial support he allegedly received from Mohamed Bouamatou, a Mauritanian pro-opposition businessman and philanthropist.

HRW said three weeks after Ghadda’s arrest, authorities also summoned and interrogated 12 other senators, four independent journalists, and two union leaders.

Media reports said many of the questions concerned alleged financing by Bouamatou. The courts placed them all under judicial supervision pending possible charges, requiring them to check in weekly with the police and preventing them from leaving the country.

The statement said as part of the same corruption investigation, a Mauritanian prosecutor on 1 September issued an international arrest warrant for corruption against Bouamatou and one of his business associates, Mohamed Ould Debbagh, who are both currently exiled in Morocco.

Early in 2017, President Abdel Aziz proposed constitutional amendments that would dissolve the Senate and establish regional councils, along with other symbolic measures.

The National Assembly, the lower house of Mauritania’s bicameral parliament, approved the amendments. But when the Senate – the upper house – rejected them last March, with Ghadda leading the opposition, President Abdel Aziz announced that he would submit the defeated reforms to a national referendum. At the time, Ghadda headed a Senate committee that monitored government contracts.

Abdel Aziz defended the initiative, calling the Senate “useless and too costly” and claiming that replacing it with “more local” forms of law-making would improve governance.

Much of the political opposition denounced the proposed move as a step toward eliminating presidential term limits in the constitution before the next presidential election in 2019.
-0- PANA MA 5Oct2017

05 october 2017 07:01:40

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