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FORMER MINISTER DETAINED FOR SPEAKING OUT AGAINST MILITARY

An independent researcher and former minister is being detained for criticising Mauritania's military and faces up to seven years in prison, report the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) and news reports.

Isselmou Ould Abdelkader was charged on 26 October with "lying" and "undermining the morale of the army" for criticising Mauritania's new military junta on a talk show. The charges could mean up to seven years in jail.

During a live debate on the state television programme "Point Lumineaux" on 6 October, Abdelkader criticised the new military junta, who came to power in a bloodless coup on 6 August. According to Arab media news website Menassat.com, Abdelkader said on the show, "The head of the military council is a danger to the country with his repetitive coups, the presidential guard led by (General and now acting leader) Ould Abdel Aziz is an armed militia, and some of its members are foreigners."

Abdelkader, who worked as a minister in the regime of deposed President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, has since been sent to a civilian prison in Nouakchott.

Two of the station's staff members, Sidi Ould Lemjad, the host of the programme, and Limam Cheikh Ould Ely, the director of Mauritania TV, were dismissed on 9 October following the broadcast. Last week, Cheikh Ould Ely was arrested and questioned by the National Gendarmerie.

MFWA "condemns these acts of repression of free speech in Mauritania and calls on the authorities to unconditionally release Abdelkader and reinstate the two dismissed staff members."

Abdelkader's family and supporters say Abdelkader refuses to apologise for his remarks. "I'd rather die from hanging than withdraw these statements," Abdelkader was quoted as saying after hearing the charges.

The August coup, in which Abdel Aziz's military junta ousted President Abdallahi and placed him under house arrest, has been widely condemned both locally and internationally. Anti-coup protests have been violently dispersed, and journalists covering the action have been assaulted and threatened.

According to Menassat, local rights groups, like the Mauritanian Human Rights Organizations Union (FONADH), have protested against Abdelkader's arrest, saying it represents a policy of silencing free voices and gagging the media by punishing anyone who dares to criticise the new government.

The European Union issued an ultimatum to Mauritania's military junta this week, telling it to unveil a plan to restore constitutional rule in the West African country within a month or face "appropriate measures."

Visit these links:
- MFWA: http://tinyurl.com/6qq3xw
- IFEX Mauritania page: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/60/
- Menassat: http://tinyurl.com/5a8t8y
- AFP: http://tinyurl.com/65rfpf
(29 October 2008)

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