Freedom in the World 2017 - Mauritania

Freedom Status: 
Not Free
Political Rights: 
Civil Liberties: 
Aggregate Score: 
Freedom Rating: 

The current leadership in Mauritania came to power in 2008 through a military coup. It has since confirmed its position in flawed elections that were boycotted by the main opposition parties. The government has adopted a number of laws ostensibly meant to address the problem of institutionalized slavery and discrimination, but it continues to arrest antislavery activists and threaten bloggers who criticize the system with punishments including the death penalty. Corruption linked to extractive industries also remains a concern. 

Key Developments in 2016: 
  • In April, an appellate court upheld a 2014 death sentence against Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed M’Kheitir, a blogger who was convicted of apostasy for posting an article in which he criticized the use of Islam to justify social discrimination in the country. An appeal to the Supreme Court was pending at year’s end.
  • In May, Biram Dah Abeid and Bilal Ramdhane, two leaders of the antislavery Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement in Mauritania (IRA Mauritania), were released from prison after serving 20 months of a two-year sentence.
  • Thirteen other antislavery activists were arrested after a protest and sentenced to prison terms of up to 15 years in June and July. The sentences, for offenses such as rebellion and membership in an unregistered organization, were significantly reduced on appeal in November, and all but three were released by the end of the year. Protests demanding the release of the activists had been violently dispersed by police.
Executive Summary: 

In September and October 2016, the government organized a dialogue with political parties and civil society groups to discuss major institutional reforms as well as social and political grievances. Mainstream opposition parties refused to participate in the event, adhering to a boycott strategy that had led them to sit out parliamentary and presidential elections in 2013 and 2014. The opposition considered President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz’s regime to be illegitimate due to its origins in the 2008 coup and its disrespect for civil liberties and the rule of law. Nevertheless, the dialogue produced plans for constitutional amendments that would eliminate the indirectly elected Senate and create elected regional councils, among other changes.

While many Mauritanians welcomed the proposed reforms, others voiced concern that the real motive behind the constitutional initiative was to lift presidential term limits and allow Abdel Aziz to seek a third term.

Restrictions on civil liberties persisted throughout 2016, as the authorities continued to jail antislavery activists and harass journalists and bloggers who reported on politically sensitive topics.

Political Rights

Political Rights 9 / 40

A. Electoral Process 3 / 12

A1. Is the head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?
A2. Are the national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?
A3. Are the electoral laws and framework fair?


B. Political Pluralism and Participation 2 / 16

B1. Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system open to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?
B2. Is there a significant opposition vote and a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?
B3. Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, totalitarian parties, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group?
B4. Do cultural, ethnic, religious, or other minority groups have full political rights and electoral opportunities?


C. Functioning of Government 4 / 12

C1. Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?
C2. Is the government free from pervasive corruption?
C3. Is the government accountable to the electorate between elections, and does it operate with openness and transparency?


Civil Liberties

Civil Liberties 21 / 60

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief 9 / 16

D1. Are there free and independent media and other forms of cultural expression?
D2. Are religious institutions and communities free to practice their faith and express themselves in public and private?
D3. Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free of extensive political indoctrination?
D4. Is there open and free private discussion?


E. Associational and Organizational Rights 4 / 12

E1. Is there freedom of assembly, demonstration, and open public discussion?
E2. Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations?
E3. Are there free trade unions and peasant organizations or equivalents, and is there effective collective bargaining? Are there free professional and other private organizations?


F. Rule of Law 4 / 16

F1. Is there an independent judiciary?
F2. Does the rule of law prevail in civil and criminal matters? Are police under direct civilian control?
F3. Is there protection from political terror, unjustified imprisonment, exile, or torture, whether by groups that support or oppose the system? Is there freedom from war and insurgencies?
F4. Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?


G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights 4 / 16

G1. Do individuals enjoy freedom of travel or choice of residence, employment, or institution of higher education?
G2. Do individuals have the right to own property and establish private businesses? Is private business activity unduly influenced by government officials, the security forces, political parties/organizations, or organized crime?
G3. Are there personal social freedoms, including gender equality, choice of marriage partners, and size of family?
G4. Is there equality of opportunity and the absence of economic exploitation?


Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year

Full Methodology

Explanatory Note: 

This country report has been abridged for Freedom in the World 2017. For background information on political rights and civil liberties in Mauritania, see Freedom in the World 2016.