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MILITARY LEADER PROMISES PRESS FREEDOM REFORMS

Mauritania's new military leader, Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, has pledged to reform the country's draconian press law and allow Radio France Internationale (RFI) to resume its broadcasts, following a meeting with a visiting Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) delegation.

Vall told RSF on 25 October 2005 that he would form a national commission "very soon" to propose amendments to laws affecting the media, including the Law on Press Freedom (Act 91-023).

A month earlier, RSF had written to Vall and offered 12 recommendations for improving press freedom conditions in the country (see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/69034/).

The military leader told RSF that Article 11 of the country's press law was "no longer important" and that he had given "instructions for this article to no longer have effect." Mauritanian journalists and international press freedom groups have long criticised the provision for giving the government sweeping powers to silence the press.

Under Article 11, authorities can ban any newspaper or magazine that contains content "likely to undermine the principle of Islam or the image of the state, to harm the public good, to compromise public order and security, whatever the language in which it is written."

According to RSF statistics, 101 cases of government censorship have occurred since the provision came into effect in 1991.

Vall also told RSF that the French broadcaster RFI would be allowed to immediately resume its FM broadcasts in the capital, Nouakchott. And he said that until the press law was amended, his government would speed up the process for issuing licences to new publications.

In August, Vall took power in a bloodless coup, deposing former president Maouiya Ould Taya, who had ruled the country in an authoritarian fashion for more than 20 years.

Visit these links:

- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=15440
- IPI Reports on Mauritania: http://www.freemedia.at/wpfr/Africa/mauritan.htm
- Freedom House Report: http://tinyurl.com/c2wdm
- Human Rights Watch: http://www.hrw.org/doc?t=africa&c=maurit
- Reuters: http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L09724240.htm

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