CPJ concerned for Mauritanian media since coup

New York, August 8, 2008–The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on the new government in Mauritania to respect press freedom after at least one journalist complained of being harassed.

Ahmed Ould Neda, 23, a reporter withindependent news Web site Al-Akhbar, said hewas filming a demonstration against the new government, which seized power in a bloodless coup two days ago. Neda was arrested and told to hand over his tape to security forces, which he refused, he told CPJ. He was detained for three hours.

On Wednesday, General Mohammad al-Abdul Aziz successfully overthrew the government of Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, the first elected president since 1960. Abdallahi had fired four top generals, including Aziz, that morning.

“We call on the generals who are now in power to respect press freedom,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney.

CPJ is also concerned about the detention of two journalists in the capital, Nouakchott, for more than two weeks. On July 21, Mohamed Nema Omar, the publisher of weekly paper Al-Houriya, and Mohamed Ould Abdelatif, a journalist with the weekly, were arrested after the newspaper published a commentary accusing three judges of taking bribes to release some people accused of drug trafficking, according to local and international news agencies. They have been charged with defamation and contempt, and face up to 15 years in prison and a fine, a local lawyer who has followed the case told CPJ.

“We call upon the new authorities to do all in their power to ensure that Mohamed Nema Omar and Mohamed Ould Abdelatif are released,” said Mahoney.

Abdelatif’s article was based on interviews with anonymous sources. He called on the authorities to launch an investigation about the accusations.

Ahmed Ould Cheik, secretary-general of the Mauritanian Journalists Rally, said he is worried that because of the coup the journalists may not receive due process.
A number of journalists told CPJ that they are worried about their safety despite the fact that General Mohammad al-Abdul Aziz has promised to respect democracy and freedom. “We feel that we are at risk; we don’t know what is going to happen,” a local journalist who did not wish to be named told CPJ.

CPJ is a New York-based, independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide. For more information, visit www.cpj.org.