Mauritius charges three reporters for defamation

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PORT LOUIS, Nov 23 (Reuters) Mauritian police charged three journalists with defamation this week after they reported a large amount of cash had been found in an unidentified policeman's locker, police said today.

Wednesday's arrests -- the first arrest of reporters in the Indian Ocean island in 13 years -- came a day after Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam told parliament he planned more legislation to prevent the media's ''abuse of freedom''.

Police arrested GDerard Cateaux, editor-in-chief of the Week-end newspaper along with Josian ValEere and Anabelle Volbert from Radio Plus.

They were formally charged but released after posting bail. They are not allowed to leave the country before going to court at a later date.

The move came after both media outlets said a policeman had found a large sum of money in the locker of a colleague. Neither the policeman or the police station was identified.

Police spokesman Max Louison said the report was false.

Radio Plus' ValEere said the journalists stood by the report.

''We don't accept these charges. We maintain the truth of this story,'' he told Reuters.

He said he had been working on the story for two weeks and that the sum of money found in the police locker was 157,000 dollars.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Ramgoolam said he did not plan to regulate the media but envisaged amending the law to ''strike a balance between freedom of expression and the legitimate rights of citizens to protect their reputations''.

REUTERS RSA KN2214

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