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Editor imprisoned for criticising military junta

In a move that surprised press freedom groups, a jailed Mauritanian editor of an online publication critical of the country's rulers was sentenced to a further two years in prison on 4 February, report the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

The sentencing came despite the government's moves to improve press freedom, including what RSF calls "the best media legislation in the sub-region," adopted in 2005.

After being detained for six months, Hanevy Ould Dehah, editor of "Taqadoumy", was sentenced for committing acts contrary to Islam and decent behaviour, report IFEX members. After completing his six-month sentence, he was held in prison illegally and subjected to another trial because of "procedural flaws in the first trial," reports CPJ.

A military junta ruled the country from August 2008 until August 2009 and its leader, Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz, has since been elected President, says CPJ. Coup leaders pressured the judges to deal a harsh sentence, reports ANHRI. "The sentence is a typical military police measure against a journalist with just a pen in his hand," says ANHRI.

According to RSF, Mauritania's journalists have been campaigning for his release for weeks, organising rallies and pleading his case with the authorities. The Union of Mauritanian Journalists (SJM) has referred to his conviction as "a retrograde step as regards treatment of the media."

"This case has damaged Mauritania's image and could discourage its international partners, especially if it goes before the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights. It is in the general interest to acquit him on appeal and release him at once," said RSF.

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