Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidallah, the runner-up in Mauritania's presidential election, and fourteen of his collaborators will be put on trial on Monday on charges of threatening state security, legal and human rights sources told IRIN on Thursday.
Haidallah is a former military head of state who was overthrown by the current president, Maaouiya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya, 19 years ago. He was arrested the day after the November 7 election as the government announced that Ould Taya had won another six-year term.
Brahim Ould Ebety, who belongs to a group of lawyers set up to defend the opposition candidate and his supporters, said the state prosecutor had informed the detained men and their lawyers last Monday that the charges would include “conspiracy to destroy or change the regime”, “acts exposing Mauritania to a war declaration” and “complicity with a foreign power.”
Human rights defender Cheick Bouh Kamara said that if proven guilty, the accused could sentenced to prison terms ranging from 20 years of forced labour to life.
Those facing trial include Ould Haidallah’s campaign spokesman, Ely Ould Sneiba, a close aide and member of parliament Ismael Ould Amar; seven youth supporters and one of Haidallah’s sons.
The Justice Ministry has not yet officially announced a date for the trial.
Ebety said due process had not been followed and accused the court system of simply taking orders from Ould Taya.
“The case is void, none of the judicial procedure has been followed, everything is murky”, Mohamed Ould Kharchy, one of Haidallah’s political advisors, concurred.
Even before the presidential election, the government had accused Haidallah, who was officially credited with 18.7 percent of the vote, of planning a coup if he lost. The former army colonel, who ruled Mauritania from 1980 to 1984, was briefly arrested the day before the election, but was released after a few hours. He was re-arrested two days later.
The legal and human rights sources said they were unsure where Ould Haidallah's trial would take place. Some speculated that it could be moved outside the capital to avoid public demonstrations.