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Mauritania18 December 2002

Journalist given jail sentence and weekly paper censored

Reporters Without Borders protested today about a prison sentence given recently to Mohamed Ould El Kory, editor of the Arabic-language weekly Inimich, and called for an end to censorship of another weekly, the Arabic-language Raya.

It noted that the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Abid Husain, in January 2000 urged all governments to see that press offences were "no longer punishable by terms of imprisonment, except in cases involving racist or discriminatory comments or calls to violence." Such unjustified punishment was a "serious violation of human rights," he said.

El Kory was sentenced to a week in prison and fined 600 euros on 20 November after a Mauritanian businessman, Bechir Ould Moulaye Elhacen, sued him for "defamation and insulting behaviour." His appeal against the sentence will be heard next week. The conviction is the first since the Mauritanian press became more independent.

Copies of the latest issue of the Arabic-language weekly Raya were seized by the authorities on 17 December under the 1991 press law, whose article 11 bans distribution of publications that "harm the government’s reputation." The law does not require the minister to give a reason for a ban, but it is thought to be because Raya reported that the Israeli ambassador secretly visited the western town of Nouadhibou to see a Palestinian official who has obtained political asylum in Mauritania.

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