The Mauritanian authorities must stop the harassment, intimidation and repression of anti-slavery activists, Amnesty International said today following the arrest of a number of high-profile campaigners.
At least nine people including Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid, President of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA) and runner-up in June’s Presidential election, were arrested on 11 November and are being held in different detention centres in the southern city of Rosso, without family visits.
Others arrested include Djiby Sow, President of the NGO Kawtal and Brahim Bilal Ramdhane, Vice President of the IRA.
All of those arrested represent non-governmental human rights organizations that actively campaign against slavery in Mauritania. Over the last week they have been travelling across the country organizing rallies, public meetings and lectures. This was halted yesterday in the southern town of Rosso, when a gendarmerie unit in Rosso was sent to stop the meeting, citing the absence of any authorization documents. The IRA had sent a request but the government refused it in a written statement.
“Anti-slavery activists are subject to never ending harassment and intimidation in Mauritania. Their actions are either prohibited or severely repressed and they are frequently arrested. This general clamp down must stop as it is a clear violation of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association,” said Gaëtan Mootoo, Amnesty International West Africa Researcher.
Some of those arrested were reportedly beaten by police officers. Yesterday evening, police officers also closed the IRA’s headquarters in Nouakchott and the spokesperson for the organization was arrested.
These arrests are part of an increasing clamp down on anti-slavery activists in Mauritania. In October, four IRA members were arrested in the biggest mosque in the capital city, Nouakchott, as they were responding to criticisms made against their organization. They were charged with disturbing prayers, incitement to revolt, and other charges. They are still detained, and to date have not been tried.
“The Mauritanian authorities should immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience and end the continuous harassment and intimidation of the anti-slavery movement. It is imperative that the authorities fully respect the legitimate work of anti-slavery activists and the important role they play in holding the government to account for the implementation of its human rights obligations and commitments. The right to assemble peacefully is a fundamental right and it is linked to other rights such as freedom of speech”, Gaetan said.