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Journalist held past his release date, begins hunger strike in protest

(ANHRI/IFEX) - The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) is concerned by the serious health condition of Mauritanian journalist Hanafi Oueld Dah, who has been on a hunger strike since 28 December 2009 after the court rejected an appeal for his release. He was due to be released on 24 December.

Oueld Dah was sentenced to six months in prison in a lawsuit filed by a former presidential candidate as a result of an article that the journalist wrote.

Since Oueld Dah completed his prison term, there is no legal justification for holding him prisoner, which is a notable threat to freedom of expression and journalists' safety, ANHRI noted.

Judge Ahmed Fal rejected an appeal to release Oueld Dah, claiming that the issue of the journalist's prison term is the responsibility of the prosecutors or prison directors. Since the journalist's file had not been submitted to the court of appeal, the court was not able to issue a release order.

The defense team had mentioned in the appeal that Oueld Dah has served his term and paid the fine and all other court expenses.

Oueld Dah's defense team issued a statement accusing the prosecutor of holding onto the journalist's file without reason. The statement mentioned that the prosecutor would not forward the file to the court of appeal, despite numerous correspondences, notes and calls asking the prosecutor to deliver the file to court.

The Mauritanian journalists' union had made great efforts to release Oueld Dah, editor of the e-paper "Takadomi". Prime defense team member Ibrahim Oueld Abeti mentioned the possibility of escalating the issue and bringing a complaint against the Mauritanian government at the International Committee for Human Rights and the African Court for Human Rights, as well as all those responsible for the continued detention of Oueld Dah.

ANHRI called on the Mauritanian government to respect the law and to immediately release Oueld Dah, since there is no legal basis for his continued detention.

The release of Oueld Dah would be a display of democracy and the respect of law, and it would be in line with President Mohamed Oueld Abdel Aziz's repeated promises to spread, maintain and support democracy. ANHRI also stressed the need to review the Mauritanian press law, to abolish imprisonment in cases related to publications and to respect freedom of opinion and expression.

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