Mauritania: Jailed presidential candidate and anti-slavery activists must be released

The Mauritanian authorities must release three activists – including a prominent opposition politician – jailed today for holding anti-slavery rallies, Amnesty International said. Police used tear gas and batons to disperse the protestors in front of the court who were demonstrating against the judgment.

The court in the southern town of Rosso handed down two-year sentences to three anti-slavery activists and human rights defenders, Brahim Bilal, Djiby Sow and Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid, a former presidential candidate. They have been convicted of membership of an unrecognized organization and of taking part in an unauthorized assembly. Seven other activists were acquitted.

“The conviction of these activists for taking part in peaceful protests on charges which are vague and open to abuse violates their human rights to free expression and freedom of peaceful assembly,’’ said Gaetan Mootoo, Amnesty International West Africa Researcher.

“The failure to obtain a permit for a peaceful assembly should never be the basis for imprisonment. Their conviction appears to be politically motivated with members of the group targeted on account of their peaceful activism. The authorities should take immediate steps to release them while their appeal is pending.”

Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid is the President of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA) and was the runner-up in June’s presidential elections. He also won the UN Human Rights Prize in 2013.

He was arrested in Rosso on 11 November, along with 10 other IRA members during their peaceful campaign to raise awareness about land rights for people of slave descent (land slavery). In Mauritania, slave descendants who work on land without any rights are forced to give a portion of crops to their traditional masters. 

Police stopped the meeting citing the absence of any authorization documents, despite the IRA having requested them. The group were charged on 15 November and detained in Rosso without being allowed family visits. 

“The intensifying crackdown on anti-slavery activists in Mauritania has no legal justification and is symptomatic of the government’s lack of respect for human rights,” said Gaetan Mootoo, Amnesty International’s West Africa Researcher.  

“The authorities must respect the right of all citizens to demonstrate peacefully.’’