(Africa News) Mauritania: Islamist prisoners launch hunger strike

Credit: Africa News

Credit: Africa News

Some 30 Islamists have launched a hunger strike at Mauritania’s main jail saying they are being punished after a New Year’s Eve escape by a high-profile prisoner facing death over an Al-Qaeda assassination plot.

The prisoners said in a statement that they had started the protest Monday at the main prison in Nouakchott, the capital, and would continue until all their demands had been met.

These included “visits by family members and for a doctor to be present on the premises round the clock for faster access to prescribed medicines,” the statement said.

The prisoners alleged they were facing “punitive measures after the escape of an Islamist prisoner we had no connection with.”

Cheikh Ould Saleck, 31, on death row since 2011 over an Al-Qaeda plot to assassinate the president, was last seen by fellow inmates at Nouakchott’s central prison at midday on December 31.

His absence from evening prayers alerted his fellow inmates who went to fetch him and found his cell locked.

A guard smashed open the door and found a flag of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the group’s north African franchise, according to a prison source.

Ould Saleck and a fellow AQIM jihadi were arrested on the outskirts of the Mauritanian capital in 2011 when the army foiled their plot to kill President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz using two car bombs.

A Mauritanian gendarme was killed and eight wounded in a firefight following the failed attack, while four suspected AQIM members died.

Ould Saleck’s wife and sister, who used to visit him in jail, were arrested on January 4.

Al Jazeera: The Retirement Trap (Video)

30 Dec 2015 10:08 GMT | Morocco, France, Netherlands, Italy, Poverty & Development

Filmmaker: Hossam Shahadat

Moroccans who have spent all their working lives in France and the Netherlands are now facing discrimination against their pensions in what has been criticised as a form of ‘retirement apartheid’.

Retired French and Italians can live anywhere in Europe without it affecting their domestic pension entitlements; but North Africans who have lived and worked in France for more than 40 years are denied the same rights.

I live alone in a narrow room, like a prison. My life here in France is more like hell, in every sense of the word.

Omar Ait Sghir, Moroccan pensioner in Paris

Instead they face a stark choice: return to their home countries and lose large slices of their pension and face medical bills they can’t afford; or remain in, say, France with their full pensions but away from their families.

“I’m sick,” says 75-year-old Mohamed Air Wakrim who has lived in France for 45 years. “If I stay in Morocco for more than six months, they’ll find out and take away my rights.”

Contrast this with the treatment of Europeans and you have what some people have called “retirement apartheid”.

“In Tunisia, I only have to pay four or five percent tax,” says Mauro Sansovini, an Italian pensioner. “In Italy, the tax rate on my pension income is between 40 and 45 percent.”

Salim Fkire, the president of CAP SUD MRE, a campaign group of Moroccans residing abroad, sums up the situation: “Mohamed and Patrick both worked in the same factory, got the same pension and paid the same taxes. Today, Patrick has the right to live permanently in Agadir… But Mohamed can’t stay in his home town for more than six months. After that he’ll have to return to France or else he’ll lose his social rights.”

There are also problems for North Africans in the Netherlands. The Dutch government tried to cut benefits to retired Moroccans by 40 percent but was forced to backtrack. So instead they introduced checks on property and began spying on Moroccans and their assets in Morocco through their embassy in Rabat, so they could deduct tax from Moroccan pensioners living in Holland.

This has led to open protests highlighting the plight of the North Africans, who have become known as ‘The Chibanis’, Moroccan Arabic dialect for ‘older people’.

In The Retirement Trap, we look at the struggle of Moroccans to redress pension injustice and escape the retirement trap they find themselves in.

You can watch the video on Al Jazeera.

 Morocco and Tunisia rely heavily on tourism and have introduced tax concessions to attract more Europeans to retire there [Al Jazeera]

(VOA) CPJ Report Highlights Journalists’ Struggles in Africa

The Committee to Protect Journalists has released its annual report on the killing of reporters around the world. The report looks at the state of media freedom in Africa. Forty-six-year-old Waweru Mugo has been a journalist in Kenya for the last 15 years and now runs his own media consulting firm.

It is not always easy. Last October, Kenyan lawmakers considered a bill that would ban the press from reporting on parliamentary matters. The controversial clauses were eventually removed amid protest from civil society and media organizations.

Intimidation, censorship

According to Mugo, journalists in Kenya and all of Africa face challenges, especially attempts by governments to intimidate and censor them. This, he says, has limited the growth of a free press.

“When you try to highlight some of these issues, the government tries to crack the whip,” he said. “The government demands that you do ABCD, that you’re not supposed to be unpatriotic, they label you as unpatriotic, they say that you’ve been bought off by foreign interests, you are working for the opposition. So the journalists also kind of bend to the whims of the government through self-censorship.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists says 69 journalists around the world were killed while on duty this year. Many died at the hands of Islamist militant groups like al-Qaida and Islamic State.

The biggest number came from Syria, but 11 were killed in Africa, including five in war-torn South Sudan.

Careful reporting

Felix Odimmasi, of the School of Law and Diplomacy at the University of Nairobi, says the lack of government support makes journalists cautious about reporting from conflict areas like South Sudan, Somalia and northern Nigeria.

“… Because one, they would not go out there and report, and two, those who dare to go out and report still know they are at risk, so they have to be very careful about what they report about and where they go. It’s the general lack, weakness of the rule of law,” he said. “The laws that exist are not necessarily being followed and there’s no strong legislation in some of these weak states to protect the media.”

Members of Africa’s Fourth Estate have come under fire across the continent from multiple regimes. Amnesty International says the South African government and ruling African National Congress party are pushing for a tribunal to regulate the media under the guise of “transformation.”

Amnesty notes that in Ethiopia, many journalists and media workers are currently in prison or have been convicted in absentia because of their work.

Benji Ndolo, a civil rights activist from the Kenya-based Organization of National Empowerment, says a concerted effort from non-state actors is the only way to halt the intimidation.

“International processes, civil rights movements, non-governmental organizations and even church organizations as well as the media will push these countries into a corner where they will be held to account for loss of lives. They will not have impunity forever and so change will absolutely come to these countries, accountability will be there,” said Ndolo.

Besides South Sudan, other African countries where journalists were killed in 2015 included Somalia, Kenya, Libya and Ghana. Another five were killed in Somalia’s neighbor, Yemen, across the Gulf of Aden.

This article was published on Voice of America.