Mauritania: Anti-Slavery Activists Sentenced to Two Years’ Imprisonment

Press release
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FIDH and AMDH express outrage at and opposition to the sentencing to two years’ imprisonment of Biram Dah Abeid and Brahim Bilal Ramdhane of Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (Initiative pour la résurgence du mouvement abolitionniste, IRA-Mauritania) and Djibril Sow of Kawtal Djélitaré, handed down yesterday by the Rosso Criminal Court for participation in and organisation of an anti-slavery convoy. Our organisations demand that the charges be dropped, the three activists be released immediately and the repression of dissident voices in Mauritania be stopped.

On 15 January 2015, the Rosso Criminal Court imposed a sentence of two years’ imprisonment on Djibril Sow, president of the Kawtal Djélitaré Association, and Biram Dah Abeid and Brahim Bilal Ramdhane, president and vice-president of IRA-Mauritania, whom are three of the ten anti-slavery activists prosecuted for ‘membership to an unrecognised organisation’ and ‘unauthorised gathering’. The other seven accused were acquitted.

This verdict shows once again that the political will to deal with land disputes, slavery and the legacy of human rights violations is biased, to say the least, and indicates a lack of courage to resolve once and for all the issue of slavery, which is regarded as a crime against humanity in the Mauritanian constitution, declared Fatimata Mbaye, AMDH president, former FIDH Vice President and lawyer for the anti-slavery activists.

On 24 December 2014, the Rosso prosecutor’s office requested five years’ immediate imprisonment for Biram Dah Abeid and eight other activists from IRA-Mauritania for ‘membership to an unrecognised organisation’ and ‘unauthorised gathering’. The president of Kawtal Djélitaré, Djiby Sow, was also prosecuted for ‘unauthorised gathering’. Last November, they were travelling the country on a convoy organised by Kawotal Djélitaré, with the aim of raising awareness in the population about the fight against slavery, when, on 11 November 2014, they were arrested, charged and imprisoned in the town of Rosso. Yet, the authorities had been duly informed that those actions were to take place, in accordance with the legislation in force. On 12 November, IRA’s headquarters in Nouakchott were closed down by the police. IRA-Mauritania, which had never received official authorisation despite its repeated requests, was under threat of such a ban at any time, something which the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mauritania denounced as ‘arbitrary application of the law’.

The guaranteed enjoyment of fundamental freedoms and the peaceful exercise of human rights by human rights defenders are threatened more than ever by the public authorities and local authorities which have unprecedented latitude to abuse power in that country, declared Karim Lahidji, FIDH President.

Since 2008, Biram Dah Abeid, the son of freed slaves, has, as the leader of his organisation IRA-Mauritania, been fighting against slavery in the country which, in one form or another, affects around 4% of the population, placing Mauritania at the top of the world’s list of countries where slavery is practised. On 18 and 19 December 2014, the European Parliament and the French Ministry for Foreign Affairs publicly stated their concern about the situation of those detained. After receiving the United Nations Human Rights Prize in 2013, Biram Dah Abeid stood in the 2014 presidential election against General Aziz, the instigator of the 2008 coup d’état. Aziz was re-elected with 82% of the votes while Biram Dah Abeid obtained nearly 9% of the votes in the absence of any other opposition leaders who had boycotted the ballot.

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