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Mauritania18 March 2009

Journalist released, website allowed to reopen

Reporters Without Borders has learned that writer and journalist Abou Abbass Ould Braham, the editor of the news website Taqadoumy, was released today after being held for three days in the Mauritanian capital and that the website was allowed to reopen 24 hours after the Nouakchott prosecutor’s office ordered its closure.

“The closure of a website and the arrest of one of its editors are unprecedented in Mauritania,” Reporters Without Borders said. “This development, which is particularly disturbing as it opens the way for all kinds of abuses, was made possible by the legal vacuum in which the electronic media operate in Mauritania. The relevant authorities must urgently address this issue and adopt legislation that regulates the Internet while respecting free expression.”

The prosecutor-general announced Braham’s release and the website’s reopening this morning. A Nouakchott criminal court had ordered Taqadoumy’s closure yesterday at the request of prosecutors for posting “mendacious and defamatory” information. The prosecutor’s office said the order was issued “after receiving repeated complaints from people, establishments and officials that Taqadoumy had disseminated mendacious reports.” The court accused the site of violating journalistic ethics and undermining national unity by means of “defamation and inciting hatred.”

Braham, a Nouakchott University professor who often writes articles in Arabic and English that he posts on the website, was arrested on the evening of 15 March while in a café with several friends.

A number of journalists staged a demonstration in support of Braham the next day outside the United Nations office in Nouakchott, brandishing placards saying “Don’t gag free expression” and “No to a backward step for press freedom in Mauritania.” They were dispersed violently by anti-riot police using batons and teargas. Several of the journalists were roughed up, including Hachem Sidi Salem of Al Hourra TV and Reuters, Ahmedou Ould Wedia of the Arabic-language daily Siraj and Abdallahi Ould Etvagha El Moktar of Sahara Media.

Mohamed Ould Meine, the military government’s spokesman and a former communication minister, gave a news conference 24 hours later in which he said he “regretted” the use of violence against the protesting journalists but did not comment on Braham’s arrest or Taqadoumy’s closure.

In 2005, Reporters Without Borders helped the Mauritanian authorities draft amendments to a law on free expression that led to the abolition of censorship. In the same way, the organisation stands ready to help the authorities and journalists draft a law guaranteeing online free expression.

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