The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) has gathered recent news and first-hand information about the current developments in Mauritania. On 11 November 2014, the Mauritanian Government arrested at least nine anti-slavery activists during a peaceful protest march, including the high-profile campaigner Biram Dah Abeid. Since then, the Government has stepped up its clampdown of anti-slavery activists, particularly members linked to the IRA-Mauritania (Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement). Moreover, according to Amnesty International, four IRA-Mauritania members arrested in early November are still imprisoned and awaiting trial.
The current developments are particularly worrying due to the wide presence of modern-day slavery in Mauritania. According to the recently-published 2014 Global Slavery Index, there are over 155,000 people trapped in modern slavery in the country, accounting for over 4 percent of the entire population. This makes Mauritania the country with the highest prevalence of slavery in the world. Despite outlawing slavery three times and making it a criminal offence in 2007, the Mauritanian Government has failed to genuinely tackle the problem.
Biram Dah Abeid, the President of IRA-Mauritania, was previously arrested in 2010 and 2012. He received the death sentence in 2012 for burning the ‘Abrégé de Khlil’ (a non-sacred interpretation of Islam). Yet, his execution is still pending. Despite such harassment, he has been widely recognized by the international community for his brave campaigning. In 2013, he was awarded both the UN Human Rights Prize and the Front Line Defenders Award.
Following the alarming circumstances and reports of the torture of some imprisoned anti-slavery campaigners, UNPO wishes to draw attention to the ongoing situation in Mauritania. It calls for the immediate and unconditional release of imprisoned anti-slavery activists and for the Mauritanian authorities to stop its current clampdown on the anti-slavery movement (please click here for our Press Release).
Timeline of Events:
19 November 2014
The President and a large delegation of the National Bar Association of Mauritania visit Biram and the other imprisoned campaigners in prison. The delegation tells the detainees that they consider them to be prisoners of conscience and that the National Bar Association will defend them. The activists also receive a visit by members of the anti-slavery organization SOS Esclaves (SOS Slaves) led by the President of the organization, Mr. Boubacar Messaoud.
Reports indicate the prisoners face horrible conditions due to the small sizes of their cells and the sweltering humid heat. They hardly get to sleep. More worryingly, however, is the alleged treatment of Dr. Saad Louleyd, the spokesperson of IRA-Mauritania. Currently imprisoned in Nouakchott, he has been apparently tortured. He was denied access to his medication, which he needs due to his diabetes, was deprived of sleep for several days and was not allowed to wash himself for six days. The police and public prosecutor also tried to get him to sign minutes of his interrogation, which did not conform to the actual answers he had given. He refused to do so. It is unknown at this point whether his situation has improved.
The two activists arrested on 12 November 2014 are referred to the prosecution and put on probation. They are ordered to pay a fine of 20,000 Mauritanian Ouguiya each (roughly 55 Euros). According to Minimum-Wage, this is just below the Mauritanian minimum monthly wage for adults.
14 November 2014
On 13 and 14 November 2014, Biram Dah Abeid is able to give interviews to several news agencies, including Voice of America and Deutsche Welle. He informs Voice of America that he is accused of ‘racism’ and that the authorities are threatening to prosecute him for inciting hatred, which can carry a prison sentence of 15 years.
The activists arrested on 11 November, 2014, are charged with various crimes, including ‘working in an unauthorised organisation’, ‘violating public order’, ‘ inciting violence’ and ‘offending the authorities’. While, according to the BBC, the Mauritanian authorities accuse the IRA-Mauritania of distributing racist propaganda, sowing racism and hatred and being an organization of extremists.
13 November 2014
A non-violent protest occurs in Rosso and Nouakchott calling for the release of recently arrested activists. The Mauritanian authorities use this opportunity to arrest Mariem Cheikh, a high level officer of IRA-Mauritania.
12 November 2014
Two other IRA-Mauritania members, Chedad Mohamed and Mohamed Vadoua, are arrested in Nouakchott. There are reports of some of the other arrested activists allegedly being tortured.
Further protests take place in Nouakchott calling for the release of the imprisoned campaigners.
11 November 2014
On the morning of 11 November 2014, Biram Dah Abeid and at least eight other anti-slavery activists are arrested following a peaceful march against slavery. Among the arrested are also the Vice-Presdient of IRA-Mauritania, Mr. Brahim Bilal Ramdhane, and the President of the anti-slavery NGO Kawtal, Mr. Djiby Sow.
The activists are campaigning with the Caravan of Liberty in the town of Chgara when the Mauritanian gendarmerie, on the orders of the local Wali, use tear gas and stun grenades to stop them. The activists are assaulted by the police before being arrested and taken to prison in the regional capital Rosso. According to some reports, Biram is originally not involved in the caravan and only arrived after the police tried to halt the march.
The headquarters of IRA-Mauritania in Nouakchott is closed by the police, who accuse the NGO of spreading hatred. The spokesperson for the organization, Dr. Saad Ould Louleyd, is also arrested.
At night a demonstration calling for the immediate release of the imprisoned activists in Nouakchott is dispersed using tear gas.
The known names of the arrested activists are: Biram Dah Abeid, Brahim Bilal Ramdhane, Khattri Rahel, Cheikh Vall, Dah Boushab, Abidine Matalla, Samba Diagana, Hassane Mahmoud, and Djiby Sow.
7 November 2014
IRA-Mauritania re-launches the Caravan of Liberty campaign with the objective of denouncing the exploitation of the Haratin and other marginalized sections of society from landowners. The campaign further aims to force the State to initiate genuine land reforms granting ownership to those who currently are working and have always worked on these lands.
The initiative originally started in January 2013 to raise awareness among the national and international communities about slavery in Mauritania and to pressure the Mauritania Government to properly implement its anti-slavery legislation. The Caravan of Liberty consists of a convoy of activists, who travel from town to town to hold marches and public gatherings.
3 November 2014
Three other IRA-Mauritania members (Brahim Jiddou, Baba Traoré and Yacoub Inalla) are arrested after they publicly defend the IRA at a mosque in Nouakchott.
The same day, all four recently arrested IRA-activists are charged with disruption of prayer, incitement to hatred and rebellion against authority. Mr. Sabbar Hussein is jailed, while the others are released but placed under judicial control. However, later reports speak of all four activists remaining in prison.
They join two IRA-Mauritania members (Hanana Mboyrick and Boubacar Yatma) already imprisoned earlier in the year, who still have not been released.
1 November 2014
Mr. Sabber Hussein is arrested following his public denouncement the day before.
31 October 2014
During the prayer at the biggest mosque in Nouakchott, Mr. Sabbar Hussein, an IRA-Mauritania member, publicly denounces land exploitation and slavery and accuses the mufti of supporting it.
Deutsche Welle reports that the Imam of the largest mosque in Nouakchott has called for Biram Dah Abeid to be murdered for allegedly insulting Islam.
21 June 2014:
Biram Dah Abeid finishes second in the Mauritanian presidential elections, receiving a total of 8.67 percent of the votes. However, Abeid strongly denounces the elections results citing wide-spread fraud by the ruling party of Mauritania.