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Publisher of Arabic-language weekly charged with "libel and insult"

(RSF/IFEX) - Mohamed Nema Oumar, the publisher of the privately-owned, Arabic-language weekly "Al-Houriya", was released on the evening of 13 June 2008 after being held for 30 hours in a police station in the Nouakchott district of Tevragh Zeina.

He was charged two days later with "libel and insult" and was ordered to report to the police twice a week pending trial, Nouakchott bar president Ahmed Ould Youssouf said. His passport has been confiscated and he is banned from leaving the country for two months.

Oumar 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. Three plain-clothes police with an arrest warrant took him in an unmarked car to a police station in the Nouakchott district of Tevragh Zeina. The Mauritanian Press Association (RPM), a local group that represents the independent media, had called for a sit-in outside the police station.

In a complaint brought by Senator Mohcen Ould El Hadj, the representative of the southwestern city of Rosso, 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 by the deputy public prosecutor 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 Oumar to be placed in pretrial custody.

An official at the president's office told RSF that the case was purely a "judicial" matter "without any political basis" and that the president's office had done everything possible to prevent Oumar's arrest.

Under Mauritanian law, pretrial custody is only permissible in cases where the defendant might try to flee.

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