CPJ concerned about state of press freedom in Mauritania ‎

New York, March 18, 2009–The military junta in Mauritania must immediately halt its increasing persecution of critical journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. 

On Sunday, police arrested Abbass Ould Braham, a journalist with the independent news Web site Taqadoumy, ‎in a Nouakchott cafe after he wrote an article critical of military rule, a local journalist told CPJ. Taqadoumy was blocked from Sunday until today on an order from the public prosecutor. Braham was released today, the local press reported.

On Tuesday, police used tear gas to disperse a sit-in demonstration in front of the United Nations offices in Nouakchott that had been organized by independent journalists to protest Braham’s arrest. A local journalist told CPJ that police violently dispersed the protesters and beat at least two reporters. Muhammad Ould Muhammad Abdul-Rahman, counselor to Mauritania’s ruler, apologized to journalists for the use of violence, according to local news reports.

A bloodless coup led by General Muhammad Ould al-Abdul Aziz ousted the democraticallyelected government of Sidi Muhhamad Ould Cheikh Abdallahi in August 2008. Since then, press freedom has faced repeated setbacks, local journalists said.

“We are alarmed by the recent wave of harassment of journalists in Mauritania,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “We call on the authorities to cease these intimidating tactics and allow the media to cover what has been a period of political upheaval in the country.”

Last week the government barred all but 15 handpicked journalists from covering a visit by Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi to Mauritania on March 11, the Lebanon-based press freedom news Web site Menassat reported.

Izza Mawlai al-Zain, publisher of the biweekly French-language newspaper Point Chaud, based in Nouakchott, is currently facing criminal defamation charges as a result of a January 15 story about mismanagement in the state-run real estate company Socogim. Sidi Ould Salem, who ran the company from late 2005 until his dismissal in January 2009 filed a defamation lawsuit against al-Zain earlier this month. She was summoned to court today for her second appearance, al-Zain told CPJ.