Mauritanian editor jailed for violating ‘decent behavior’

New York, August 24, 2009–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns a Mauritanian court’s decision to sentence an online editor to six months in prison.

A court in Nouakchott found Hanevy Ould Dehah, editor of the online publication Taqadoumy, guilty of acts “contrary to Islam and decent behavior” after he published an article about sex education, his lawyer Brahim Ould Ebetty told Agence France-Presse. In its ruling, issued Thursday, the court also fined Ould Dehah 30,000 ougya (US$120), according to AFP and local news organizations.

The editor’s lawyer said he would appeal the verdict. Ould Dehah has been jailed since his arrest in June.

Ould Dehah was acquitted on charges of defamation and “inciting rebellion,” which stemmed from a Taqadoumy article that accused a politician of bribe-taking, according to news reports. The defense lawyer said Ould Dehah was acquitted because there are no Mauritanian laws regulating electronic media. In comments to AFP, lawyer Ould Ebetty questioned how his client could be convicted on certain counts when all of the material was published online.

Taqadoumy has been highly critical of the military junta that ruled the country from August 2008 until earlier this month, as well as Gen. Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, former leader of the junta and now the country’s president. In March, a Mauritanian court ordered the closure of Taqadoumy, but that decision was not implemented.

“We are dismayed that Mauritania’s courts have chosen to punish a journalist who has expressed adversarial views,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ program coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa. “This ruling should be overturned on appeal. The excessively harsh prison term indicates that the courts are being used to settle political scores with a critical journalist.”