February 23, 2010

Président de la République
Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz
Présidence de la République Islamique de Mauritanie
B.P. 184
Nouakchott, Mauritania
Fax : +222 525 98 01

Ministre de la Justice
Limama Ould Teguedi
B.P. 350 Nouakchott, Mauritania
Fax: +222 529 49 84

Your Excellencies,

On behalf of the 3,400 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to express our concern regarding the sentence handed to online newspaper editor Hanevy Ould Dehah.

According to our information, Hanevy Ould Dehah, editor of the news web site Taqadoumy, was sentenced on February 4, 2010, to two years in prison on charges of violating public decency, inciting revolt and “criminal publication.” He had already served six months in prison on the same charges and should have been freed in December 2009. However, instead of releasing him, the authorities called for a retrial, citing alleged procedural flaws in the first trial. Press freedom groups have described Dehah’s retrial as arbitrary and politically motivated and journalists in Mauritania have reportedly been campaigning for his release. His lawyers plan to appeal before the Supreme Court.

 Mr. Dehah was arrested on June 18, 2009, following a complaint by the head of the opposition Alliance for Justice and Democracy/ Movement for Renovation (AJD/MR), who was then a presidential candidate. The politician was angered by an article published on April 22 that referred to his alleged purchase of a villa costing 30 million ouguiyas in one of the capital’s wealthiest neighborhoods. The politician and his family reportedly said the article was “defamatory and baseless.”

 Mr. Dehah was charged on June 24, 2009, and on August 19 was given a six-month prison sentence for “offending public decency.” He was acquitted of charges of defamation, inciting rebellion and inciting crimes and offenses “because” of the absence of enforceable laws applicable to electronic media offenses.” Taking into account the two months he had spent in prison before being sentenced, Dehah was expected to be released on December 24.

However, Dehah remained in custody and on January 14, 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that his case should be sent back to an investigating judge for a new trial. The authorities reportedly refused to comment on the situation; the justice minister said that he was unaware of the case even though it has been widely reported in the media. Dehah launched a hunger strike that lasted several weeks, but it was unsuccessful in bringing about his release. On February 4, 2010, Dehah was retried and sentenced to a further two years in prison on what are essentially the same charges. He remains imprisoned in Dart Naim prison in the capital Nouakchott.

PEN American Center is seriously concerned that Hanevy Ould Dehah has been imprisoned for exercising his legitimate right of freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights and by the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, both of which Mauritania has signed. We therefore call for his immediate and unconditional release.

Thank you for your consideration of this urgent matter.

Hannah Pakula                        
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee   

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

CC: Deputy Chief of Mission
Dr. Mohamed El Moctar El Alaoui Ould Youba
Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania
2129 Leroy Place, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Fax: (202) 319-2623

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