Mauritania: FIDH and AMDH Condemn the Repression of Dissenting Voices

Press release
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FIDH and the AMDH protest the sentencing to death of a young man on 24 December last year for the alleged crime of apostasy and are concerned about the risk of a five-year prison sentence for Biram Dah Abeid and seven other activists from the Initiative for the Resurgent Abolition Movement (Initiative pour la résurgence du mouvement abolitionniste, IRA-Mauritania). Our organisations demand that these charges be dropped and that the repression of dissenting voices in Mauritania is brought to an end.

On 24 December 2014, Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed was sentenced to death for “apostasy” after criticising the caste system and the inequality it causes in Mauritania, as well as questioning its conformity with the Qur’an. Arrested and detained since 2 January 2014, the young man has been threatened with death on several occasions.

This sentence, which is the first for ’apostasy’ in Mauritania since independence, represents a step backwards in terms of tolerance and demonstrates the extent to which the issues of caste, religion, slavery and therefore democracy are still taboo in Mauritania. We have observed a crackdown by both society and those in power against all dissenting voices on these subjects, declared Me Fatimata Mbaye, AMDH President, FIDH ex-Vice President and an advocate for anti-slavery activists.

Consequently, on 24 December 2014, the prosecutor’s department in Rosso requested five years in prison for Biram Dah Abeid and seven other activists from the Initiative for the Resurgent Abolition Movement (IRA-Mauritania) for “belonging to an unrecognised organisation” and “unauthorised gathering”. Last November, despite being authorised to travel in convoy around the country, – a journey organised by the Kawotal organisation with the aim of raising awareness in the population about the fight against slavery – on 11 November 2014 they were arrested, charged and imprisoned in the city of Rosso. On 12 November, the IRA-Mauritania headquarters in Nouakchott was closed by police. The IRA-Mauritania, which had never received official authorisation despite its repeated requests, was always under threat of such a ban at any time, something the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mauritania denounced as “arbitrary application of the law”. The President of Kawotal, Djiby Sow, has also been prosecuted despite being granted authorisations. Eleven other activists from the IRA-Mauritania are still being detained in Nouakchott while awaiting trial.

Our organisations denounce the arrest of Biram Dah Abeid and the other IRA-Mauritania and Kawotal activists and demand that these charges be dropped and that they be freed, as well as the legalisation of their organisations. Slavery is a crime punishable by law and it is those who practice it who must face justice, not those who fight it, 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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