Prison term completed, Mauritanian editor still jailed

New York, January 5, 2010—Mauritanian authorities should immediately release an editor who has served his prison term in its entirety, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The refusal to free Hanevy Ould Dehah, editor of the online publication Taqadoumy, appears to be unlawful and reflective of the politically motivated nature of the case.

Ould Dehah was due to be released from prison on December 24 when his sentence ended, Agence France-Presse reported. The presiding judge, Ahmad al-Fal, said he was powerless to free the editor because neither prosecutors nor prison authorities had filed the necessary paperwork, according to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI). The journalist began a hunger strike on December 28 in protest of authorities’ failure to release him, ANHRI said. 

Ould Dehah, detained in June and placed at Dart Naim Prison, served a six-month sentence after being convicted of committing acts “contrary to Islam and decent behavior” in connection with an article asserting the benefits of sex education. He was acquitted at the same time on charges of defamation and “inciting rebellion,” stemming from a Taqadoumy article that accused politician Ibrahima Moctar Sarr, head of the Alliance for Justice and Democracy/Movement for Renewal, of improprieties.

At the time, defense lawyer Brahim Ould Ebetty said his client was acquitted on some counts because there are no Mauritanian laws regulating electronic media. In comments to AFP, the lawyer questioned how his client could be convicted on certain other counts when all of the material was published online.

“It’s bad enough that Hanevy Ould Dehah should have been imprisoned for his writing,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ program coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa. “But it’s outrageous that he should stay behind bars after he has completed his six-month sentence. The court’s statement that it does not have the necessary paperwork to free our colleague merely reinforces the impression that this was a political prosecution. Ould Dehah should not spend one more day behind bars.”

Taqadoumy has reported critically on the military junta that ruled the country from August 2008 until August 2009, and its leader, Gen. Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who is now Mauritania’s sitting president. A court order in March led to the site being partially blocked for a brief time.