- Mauritania's President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi says he had tried to hinder the detention of editor Mohamed Nema Oumar, who is accused libelling and insulting a Senator, but a Nouakchott court had insisted on his arrest.
Mohamed Nema Oumar, the publisher of the privately-owned, Arabic language weekly 'Al-Houriya', was arrested on 12 June as he left the VIP lounge at Nouakchott international airport after accompanying the President on an official visit to Libya, for which he was accredited as press representative. The detention took part despite protests by the Head of State.
Three plain-clothes police with an arrest warrant took the editor in an unmarked car to a police station in the Nouakchott district of Tevragh Zeina. There, Mr Oumar was held for 30 hours. Two days later, he was charged with "libel and insult" and was ordered to report to the police twice a week pending trial, according to Nouakchott bar president Ahmed Ould Youssouf. His passport has been confiscated and he is banned from leaving the country for two months.
In a complaint brought by Senator Mohcen Ould El Hadj, Mr Oumar was accused of "insult" and "defamation" in an article that was very critical of his participation in festivities marking the 60th anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel, which is recognised by Mauritania. The case had been shelved after Senator Hadj failed to appear in court for a hearing. But then, on 9 June, the public prosecutor reinstated the charges and issued an order for Mr Oumar to be placed in pre-trial custody.
For Mauritania's pro-press freedom President Abdallahi, the arrest came as an embarrassment. An official at the President's office today told the Paris-based media freedom watchdog Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) that the case was purely a "judicial" matter "without any political basis."
The official added that "the President's office has done everything possible to prevent Oumar's arrest." However, Mauritania's increasingly independent judiciary had not given into pressure from the presidency, carrying on with proceedings against Mr Oumar.
Meanwhile, among the Mauritanian press, the arrest has caused widespread outrage. The Mauritanian Press Association (RPM), a local group that represents the independent media, has called for a sit-in outside the police station.
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