One year on: Mauritania must release jailed anti-slavery activists

11 November 2015

Anti-Slavery International joins sixteen other organisations in calling for immediate release of activists jailed a year ago

Biram Dah Abeid, President of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement
Biram Dah Abeid, President of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement

JOINT STATEMENT: MAURITANIA MUST RELEASE TWO PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCE DETAINED A YEAR AGO

Mauritania must immediately release two anti-slavery activists imprisoned a year ago, 17 human rights organisations said today. The health of one of the activists is also deteriorating, the organisations said in a joint statement. Biram Dah Abeid and Brahim Bilal Ramadane, respectively President and Vice President of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA-Mauritania), have been in prison since 11 November 2014. They were convicted of being members of an unrecognised organisation, participating in an unauthorised meeting, failure to comply with police orders and rebellion. The human rights organisations are calling for their immediate and unconditional release and demanding that the charges against them be dropped.

“Mauritania adopted a new law against slavery in August 2015 that now defines it as a crime against humanity. Despite the adoption of this law, those still practising slavery escape justice whilst, paradoxically, anti-slavery activists are being sentenced to prison,” said Gaëtan Mootoo, Amnesty International’s researcher for West Africa.

“Mauritania must stop targeting anti-slavery activists, including convicting them solely for participating in a peaceful rally.”

According to information received by the signatory organisations, Biram Dah Abeid is suffering from a slipped disc, high blood pressure and stomach pain. He was admitted to Aleg hospital on 25 August 2015 after suffering pains in his back and leg. He was examined by the chief physician who said he must be urgently transferred to the capital Nouakchott for further tests. However, the Mauritanian authorities have not given permission for this transfer. The signatory organisations are demanding that Biram Dah Abeid immediately receive appropriate medical care in accordance with international standards.

“The delay in transferring Biram Dah Abeid to hospital is cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The government will be held responsible for anything that may happen to this prisoner of conscience in poor health,” stated Clément Boursin, head of the Africa Programme, ACAT.

Background

Slavery was officially abolished in Mauritania in 1981 and this practice has been recognised as a crime under national law since 2007. In August 2015, Mauritania adopted a new law against slavery, which now defines it as a crime against humanity. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Mauritania is a state party, also prohibits slavery. Despite this, although at least 32 slavery cases have been submitted to the prosecutor since 2010, the majority of these cases have been subject to long delays.

The Mauritanian authorities often restrict the freedom of expression of human rights defenders and organisations campaigning against slavery. Biram Dah Abeid, President of IRA-Mauritania, was previously arrested in 2010 and 2012 for demonstrating his opposition to slavery.

Signatory organisations:

Action des Chrétiens pour l’abolition de la Torture; Agir Ensemble pour les Droits de l’Homme; Amnesty International; Association des Femmes Chefs de Famille (Mauritanie); Anti Slavery International; Comité de Solidarité avec les Victimes des Violations des Droits Humains (CSVVDH) en Mauritanie; Forum des Organisations Nationales des Droits de l’Homme en Mauritanie (Mauritanie); Free the Slaves (USA); Initiative pour le Résurgence du Mouvement Abolitionniste (Mauritanie); Initiative pour le Résurgence du Mouvement Abolitionniste, IRA (USA); International Trade Union Confederation; Minority Rights;  Pen International; Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l’Homme – Sénégal; Society for Threatened Peoples; SOS Esclaves-Mauritania; Walk Free.

Adding to the statement, Anti-Slavery International’s Africa Programme Coordinator Sarah Mathewson said: “It is incredible that Mauritanian government is claiming to be tackling slavery in the country while continuing to hold anti-slavery activists in prison on spurious charges.

“Mauritania has had an anti-slavery law in place since 2007 but still only one slave-owner has been prosecuted on slavery charges – and even he was let out on bail after his conviction. Meanwhile, activists trying to protest slavery practices are locked up in prison and denied proper healthcare. Until they’re free we cannot take the Mauritanian government seriously when they say they are addressing slavery.”

Note to Editors:

For more information and to arrange interviews please contact Anti-Slavery International Press Officer Jakub Sobik on 07789 936 383 or at j.sobik@antislavery.org.