Mauritanian journalist still being held after prison term ends

January 20, 2010

Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz 
President of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania 
C/o Mohamed El Moctar El Alaoui Ould Youba 
Chargés d’affaires ad interim 
Embassy of Islamic Republic of Mauritania 
2129 Leroy Place, NW
Washington, D.C 20008

Via facsimile: +1-202-319-2623

Dear Mr. President,

The Committee to Protect Journalists is writing to protest the continued detention and relentless campaign of persecution against Hanevy Ould Dehah, editor of the online news site Taqadoumy, who has been imprisoned since June.

Ould Dehah was due to be released from prison on December 24 when his six-month sentence ended, but authorities have failed to free him. This failure on the part of your government is unlawful and reflects the politically motivated nature of Ould Dehah’s case. He served his sentence after being found guilty of acts “contrary to Islam and decent behavior” following an article he wrote about the benefits of sex education.

We find it deplorable that the Mauritanian authorities imprisoned our colleague for his writing in the first place. But we are doubly outraged that your government continues to hold him after he has served his term in its entirety. To add insult to injury, the Mauritanian Supreme Court, in what appears to be a political use of the judiciary, decided on January 14 that Ould Dehah’s initial trial was procedurally flawed, and ruled that he is to be retried, potentially resulting in additional charges and prison time.

According to the chief attorney on Ould Dehah’s defense team, Brahim Ould Ebety, the following irregularities and unlawful acts have plagued the proceedings:

  • The six-month prison sentence is not rooted in law, because there are no provisions regulating online expression. The judge who convicted Ould Dehah noted that same fact, only to find our colleague guilty minutes later.
  • Continuing to hold Ould Dehah past the end of his sentence is unconstitutional. The rules of procedure state that in order to hold an individual a judge must submit a signed order to prison authorities before that individual is incarcerated. No such order was submitted prior to the end of Ould Dehah’s prison term.
  • The district attorney handling Ould Dehah’s case, Ly Amadou Ciré, violated legal procedure by filing a motion with the Supreme Court without granting defense attorneys the required 15-day notice, which is designed to grant the defense an opportunity to challenge the motion.

Ould Ebety told Taqadoumy that the maneuvers undertaken by the government, and particularly the motion being considered by the Supreme Court, are illegal regardless of whether they result in additional charges and convictions or an acquittal. He added that he had already demonstrated these points to the court in his latest submission.

Making matters worse, Ould Dehah has also been subjected to retaliatory measures in other ways. When he was not released upon the end of his prison term, Ould Dehah went on an indefinite hunger strike. Fourteen days into the hunger strike, Ould Dehah fell and injured his head. The next day he ended his strike and told his supporters in a letter written from prison about his ordeal. He wrote, “I cannot but state for the record the inhumane treatment I received in prison after I lost consciousness yesterday. I was not transported outside of the prison to receive health care. The prison doctor turned off his phone all day long. This allowed the prison guards and the warden to hide behind the excuse that only the doctor could allow me to be moved to the National Hospital Center.”

We demand an end to the vindictive treatment and legal posturing exercised against our colleague, all of which smack of political score settling with a journalist who has long been sharply critical of your rule. We ask that you order his immediate and unconditional release.  

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to your reply.


Joel Simon
Executive Director