Nouakchott — Mauritanian security forces have until recently been extracting prisoner confessions through torture - including sleep deprivation, cigarette burns, suspension from a metal bar, electric shocks, sexual violence, physical blows and psychological abuse - according to Amnesty International.
The human rights organisation alleges systematic torture has taken place based on prison visits in the capital Nouakchott and northwest port city of Nouadhibou in February and July 2008. Detainees interviewed included terrorist suspects, civilians and soldiers accused of coup plotting. Amnesty researchers wrote the alleged torture took place most often when prisoners were held indefinitely in custody in military barracks, police posts and private residences, often without access to family or legal representation.
Lemine Dadde, head of the newly-created government commission on human rights told IRIN post-coup leaders are committed to changing Mauritania's authoritarian, abusive past.
Before the election of the now-deposed President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi in 2007, Mauritania had been under the rule of a string of military leaders since independence in 1960.
"We cannot be held responsible for acts committed under previous regimes. Those visits were conducted before the change in power [6 August]. I will personally visit prisons to verify these allegations," Dadde told IRIN. "Not because we obey Amnesty International, but rather because respecting human dignity is our political will."
But opponents of the 6 August military takeover told IRIN prisoner treatment has grown worse with the change in power, and is reminiscent of widespread abuse during the rule of Maaouiya Ould Taya from 1991 until he was overthrown in 2005.
"I was beaten severely and savagely by 15 police men until I lost consciousness, for demonstrating peacefully against the coup," said Isselmou Ould Efnine, 32. "I discovered later in the hospital that my arm was broken and my head injured," Efnine told IRIN.
Nouakchott's governor, Mohamed Lemine Ould Moulaye Zeine, banned political demonstrations as of 30 September 2008, citing security concerns.
When asked what legal recourse he had pursued, Efnine replied: "I can not report the case to the court for the time being since there is no justice in my country."
Though some prisoners have lodged court complaints because of the alleged torture, no known investigations have been undertaken, according to researchers in Amnesty's report, "Mauritania: Torture at the Heart of the State."
Since the coup, the human rights situation has grown worse, Aminetou Mint Moctar, president of the non-profit Women Supporting Families, told IRIN: "Opinion-leaders are jailed with killers and drug-dealers in the same prison. They are disturbed and attacked by those criminals."
She added, "Former ministers [who are imprisoned] are badly treated and terrorist suspects are constantly tortured for asking to pray."
Human rights lawyer and member of the National Mauritanian Association of Human Rights, Limam Ould Cheikh, told IRIN the pendulum of human rights has slowly swung backward towards authoritarianism, characterized by former President Maaouiya Ould Taya's rule. "Little had really changed since the years of [President] Maaouiya. The abuse was simply hidden [then]."
Cheikh told IRIN he represented a dozen men in May 2007 who were charged with having ties to terrorist organisations; the lawyer said several told him of beatings they received to force confessions.
Cheikh added that despite an August 2007 criminal code prohibiting confessions obtained through torture, little appears to have changed in Mauritania. "The only difference from the [President] Ould Taya years is that you now see beatings of political demonstrators on television. Ill-treatment of prisoners that was once hidden is now coming into the open."
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]