Return of the prison porn movies scandal



 
The managing editor of the Mauritanian newspaper Points Chauds is facing a new trial because of a three-year-old article about porn movies being shot at a Nouakchott prison. The real reason, Moulay Najim says, is a more recent article in which he criticized President Sidi Ould Sheikh Abdallah.
 
By MOHAMAD SALEM
 
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The editorial team of Points Chauds. R.R.

NOUAKCHOTT, April 30, 2008 (MENASSAT) – The last issue of the Mauritanian newspaper Points Chauds contained an analysis piece by managing editor Moulay Najim. It drew a parallel between the rule of Mauritanian President Sidi Ould Sheikh Abdallah and that of Algerian President Abdul Aziz Boutaflika.

Twenty-four hours after publication, Najim was contacted by the deputy public prosecutor who asked him to stop by his office the next day at 9.30 a.m. to face new charges regarding an article he published three years earlier. The article, "Pornographic movies in the civilian prison," had led to the imprisonment of Najim and his assistant Adel Ould al-Sajad at the time.

"I was surprised by the call", Najim told MENASSAT. "I asked the deputy public prosecutor why hadn't called me before and why they did not contact my lawyers."

But the deputy insisted on Najim's presence. During the ensuing court session, the plaintiffs were accompanied by their lawyers who asked for the presence of the Ministers of Justice and the Interior as well as the guards of the civil prison and all those who had seen the pornographic movies mentioned in the article. Upon these demands, the trial was postponed until May 13.

The story

Many Mauritanians today don't remember the scandal of the prison porn movies. Points Chauds published an article and pictures accusing a prisoner called al-Naji, who was serving a 20-year prison sentence for killing his aging mother, of shooting pornographic movies inside the Nouakchott prison in addition to blackmailing the female visitors to the prison.

Al-Naji denied these accusations but the two journalists had the tapes in their possession and an investigation proved that they were authentic.

The porn movies story followed a series of scandals involving the Nouakchott prison, which has seen murders and riots and was known as a center for drugs trafficking.

Still, instead of al-Naji or the prison authorities it was the two journalists who faced trial on the charge of "not informing the proper authorities before publishing."

Moulay Najim contradicted this, saying, "I gave a copy of the newspaper to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and one to the Ministry of Justice. I also got a receipt of distribution, so how do they accuse me of not informing the authorities before publishing, knowing that the authorities gave me the permission to publish?"

Najim was released 24 hours after his arrest following a massive sit-in outside the Ministry of Justice, protesting the fact that the journalists were being tried not under the Press and Publication Law but under the penal code.

The motives

When he was contacted by MENASSAT, Najim said, "The only possible motive behind reopening a three-year-old case is revenge."

"My [analysis] article annoyed the authorities. In order to shut me up, they searched in the archives for an old case in which I was the accused."

Out of twenty-five people involved in the prison porn case, Najim was the only one who was summoned.

Najims article in the last issue of Points Chauds questioned the ability of the President to rule, adding that in any case the military is the real ruler of Mauritania.

Mauritanian journalists and the civil society have called upon the authorities to safeguard democracy and to protect press freedom, arguing that the constant arrests of and trials against journalists do not bode well for Mauritania's still young and fragile democracy.

According to Najim, "This case is a clear example on the interference of the government in the judiciary. We only ask to be tried according to the laws of our profession. We are well aware of the rules."


(Rita Barotta contributed to this report from Beirut.)