Reporters Without Borders has called for the immediate release of Abdel Fettah Ould Ebeidna, managing editor of the daily newspaper "Al-Aqsa", who was sent to prison in Nouakchott on 24 May 2007 because of a libel complaint against him by a businessman.
"His imprisonment is a very ominous sign for the media at a time when the country is in the grip of a major drugs scandal," the worldwide press freedom organisation said. "Before the transition to democratic rule, jailing journalists was routine, but the practice has been banned and libel suits are now handled in a different way. This latest imprisonment seems to be a case of political score-settling."
Ebeidna was ordered by a judge, Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Talhata, to report to a police station on 24 May in connection with a libel suit filed by businessman Mohamed Ould Bouammatou, who the paper had said on 16 May was involved in a large-scale cocaine racket discovered in the northern town of Nouadhibou on 2 May, along with the son of a former president, a politician and the sons of several prominent figures.
The article, which did not present very firm evidence, said Bouammatou had been formally charged. Ebeidna was sent to prison immediately after his visit to the police station.
Under the country's new 2005-2006 press law, libel and printing "inaccurate news" are no longer punishable by imprisonment and a press and broadcasting regulatory body, HAPPA, has been set up.