Reporters Without Borders today condemned the arrest of the director of the news website Taqadoumy (http://www.taqadoumy.com), Hanevy Ould Dehah, on the orders of the prosecutor’s office in the capital Nouakchott.
The arrest followed a defamation complaint by presidential election candidate, Ibrahima Moctar Sarr, president of the opposition party Alliance for Justice and Democracy/Movement for Renovation (AJD/MR).
The Mauritanian Journalists’ Union (SJM) said Dehah had been arrested on 18 June by a man in plainclothes who turned out to be a gendarme. He was taken in handcuffs to the gendarmerie and then to the police station.
The candidate complained about an article posted on the website on 22 May headlined, “The sudden fortune of Ibrahima Sarr”, referring to “the purchase by Mr Sarr of a villa costing 30 million ouguiyas (about 83,000 euros) on the Nouadhibou road in an area known as ’university lands’, one of the capital’s swankiest districts”. Sarr and his family considered the article “defamatory and baseless” and took the case before the court.
The journalist’s lawyer, Sid'Elmoktar Ould Sidi, was yesterday denied the right to visit his client. He said the journalist’s rights were being trampled on because he had not been told the reason for his arrest. Dehah has no access to his defence or his family, both rights guaranteed by Article 58 of the criminal law.
“This arrest was certainly carried out in the framework of legal proceedings but the questionable attitude of the authorities leaves a sense of threat hanging over the website and over how the case will be handled”, the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
“We also stress our opposition in principle to any prison sentence in the context of proceedings for defamation. We call for him to have a fair trial”, it added.
Since Dehah’s arrest was made public, the prosecutor’s office has been contacted by lawyers for 17 complainants against the website. Journalists and human rights activists on 18 June held a demonstration in front of the SJM offices to express their solidarity with their colleague.