Reporters Without Borders condemns the imprisonment of Abdel Fettah Ould Abeidna, the editor of the privately-owned Arabic-language weekly "Al-Aqsa", on 30 November 2008 in Nouakchott on a criminal libel charge. Abeidna was immediately jailed on his arrival from Dubai, from where he was extradited.
"Abeidna's imprisonment is disproportionate and counter-productive, and confirms the urgent need for a reform of Mauritania's legislation that reflects a desire to handle press cases in a fairer and more effective way," Reporters Without Borders said. "This case should have handled differently from the outset. The courts should not have been forced to bypass the media regulatory bodies."
Abeidna arrived in handcuffs and with a Mauritanian police escort at around 7 p.m. (local time) on 30 November on a flight from Dubai, where he spent the past year. After disembarking, he was taken directly from the airport to Nouakchott's civilian prison. Relatives and fellow journalists who had gone to the airport in a show of support were unable to see him.
A Nouakchott criminal court sentenced Abeidna in November 2007 to a year in prison on a charge of criminally libelling Mauritanian businessman Mohamed Ould Bouamatou, whom he had linked to international cocaine trafficking.
Abeidna was originally charged with defamation under the press law, but the Supreme Court changed the charge to one of criminal libel, punishable by five months to two years in prison under Article 348 of the Criminal Code. Abeidna's lawyers told Reporters Without Borders they wanted the case to be tried under the press law, not the criminal law.