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Mauritania16 June 2008

Libel charge brought against publisher of Arabic-language weekly

Mohamed Nema Oumar, the publisher of the privately-owned, Arabic-language weekly Al-Houriya, was released on the evening of 13 June after being held for 30 hours in a police station in the Nouakchott district of Tevragh Zeina.

He was charged two days later with “libel and insult” and was ordered to report to the police twice a week pending trial, Nouakchott bar president Ahmed Ould Youssouf said. His passport has been confiscated and he is banned from leaving the country for two months.

13.06 - Newspaper publisher arrested for criticising senate deputy speaker’s participation in Israel anniversary celebration

Reporters Without Borders calls on the Mauritanian authorities to release Mohamed Nema Oumar, the publisher of the privately-owned, Arabic-language weekly Al-Houriya, who was arrested on 12 June as a result of a libel action brought by senate deputy speaker Mohcen Ould El Hadj over an article criticising his attendance at Israel’s 60th anniversary celebrations.

“A journalist has against been imprisoned in Mauritania because of a law that was badly written or misinterpreted,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Imprisonment does not help the cause it is supposed to defend, which is to repair the damage done to a person’s reputation. Oumar should be freed at once and Mauritania’s judges should realise that jail is not a satisfactory response to the alleged offence, especially when there is a competent body for regulating the media.”

Oumar was arrested as he left the VIP lounge at Nouakchott international airport after accompanying the president on an official visit to Libya, for which he was accredited as press representative. Three plain-clothes police with an arrest warrant took him in an unmarked car to a police station in the Nouakchott district of Tevragh Zeina. The Mauritanian Press Association (RPM), a local group that represents the independent media, called for a sit-in outside the police station.

In the complaint brought by Senator Hadj, the representative of the southwestern city of Rosso, Oumar was accused of “insult” and “defamation” in an article that was very critical of his participation in festivities marking the 60th anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel, which is recognised by Mauritania.

The case had been shelved by the deputy public prosecutor after Senator Hadj failed to appear in court for a hearing. But then, on 9 June, the public prosecutor reinstated the charges and issued an order for Oumar to be placed in pretrial custody.

The public prosecutor refused to answer Reporters Without Borders’ questions but an official at the president’s office told the press freedom organisation that the case was purely a “judicial” matter “without any political basis” and that the president’s office had done everything possible to prevent Oumar’s arrest.

Under Mauritanian law, pretrial custody is only permissible in cases where the defendant might try to flee.

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