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Mauritania: Online Journalist Arrested, News Website Blocked and Journalists Sit-in Attacked

Update: 18 March 2009-Abbass Ould Brahim was released after being held for three days, and the Taqadoumy website was allowed to reopen 24 hours after the Nouakchott prosecutor’s office ordered its closure.

Abbass-Ould-Braham.jpegAbbass Ould Braham, a Mauritanian online journalist was arrested this past Monday, 16 March 2009, for an article he published on Taqadoumy website. News of his arrest was reported by Taqadoumy.com and echoed by number of Mauritanian websites.

Abbass’s article “Deep into Mauritania: A Cross-Section of the new Mauritanian Regime” (in arabic) deals with the August 6 coup d'état, the Junta and the Mauritanian political system:

Freelance journalist and University of Nouakchott Professor Abbass Ould Braham was seized by police this evening. He was at a cafe in Nouakchott with friends, when two police officers entered the cafe and forced him to leave with them.
The police did not produce an official warrant for his arrest. When his friend asked why they were taking Abbass away, the police answered that in was in relation to the articles he writes regularly for Taqadoumy.com, an online newspaper that publishes articles criticizing the current political figures who took power via a coup d'etat. Abbass remains in custody and there is not yet any further information regarding his release.

Dozens of Mauritanian journalists tried to stage a sit-in late Monday in front of the UN office in Nouakchott in solidarity with the journalist Abbass Ould Braham when the Mauritanian riot police raided the site, firing tear gas at them and allegedly beating them with truncheons.

manif_abass.jpg

Protestors on a street after riot police fired tear gas during sit-in in solidarity with arrested online journalist Abbass Ould Braham (source: Taqadoumy.com)

A Facebook group has also been created in support of Abbass.

This is not the first case of online journalist to be arrested, a journalist from Taqadoumy.com, Cheikh Ould Ahmed, has also been sued in the past for defamation by Senator from Kankossa. Cheikh Ould Ahmed has ben released later under judicial control.

Chinguitel and Mauritel, the two main ISP's in Mauritania have been ordered by the General Persecutor, Seyid Ould Ghaïlani, to block access to what is considered to be the country's second biggest news website,Taqadoumy.

Today, Mauritel, Mauritania's state-owned telecommunications company, followed the block order by banning the website.

If confirmed, this is the first case (since 2005 Mauritanian coup d'état) of barring Mauritanian Internet users from accessing a Mauritanian website.

In november 2008, at least two influential Mauritanian websites were hacked. Both websites are critical of the military junta led by General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz:

The Sahara Media news agency, considered the first news site in Mauritania, was also disabled for one to two days, while anbaa was not only hacked, but its office in Nouakchott was vandalised and computers were stolen, said Maloum, who is the coordinator of the For Mauritania website, a lobby group.

The attack against the Anbaa website seems to be connected to the website’s intent to publish content related to scandals involving politicians and senior public figures in the country.

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