Mauritania: Worldwide pressure to release two anti-slavery activists ahead of African Union Summit

• Moussa Biram and Abdallahi Matallah subjected to torture and kept in arbitrary detention for two years
• African Union (AU) Heads of State summit takes place on 1 and 2 July in Nouakchott
• AU Assembly should not turn a blind eye to Mauritania’s poor human rights record

President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz should unconditionally release two anti-slavery activists detained solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression and speaking up against injustice, Amnesty International said today.

Mauritania is the official host of the 31st Ordinary Session of the African Union Summit on 1 July in Nouakchott. Amnesty International collected more than 64,000 individual petitions worldwide asking that Moussa Biram and Abdallahi Matallah Saleck, who have been tortured during two years in detention, be immediately and unconditionally released. The petitions are being handed over by Amnesty International activists and supporters to Mauritania’s embassies around the world.

Moussa Biram and Abdallahi Matallah Saleck should not have been detained in the first place but they have now spent two years behind bars simply for taking peaceful action to defend the rights of all those suffering from slavery and discrimination in Mauritania
Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Africa Director for Research and Advocacy

“Moussa Biram and Abdallahi Matallah Saleck should not have been detained in the first place but they have now spent two years behind bars simply for taking peaceful action to defend the rights of all those suffering from slavery and discrimination in Mauritania,” said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Africa Director for Research and Advocacy.

“The Mauritanian authorities must end their ongoing repression of anti-slavery activists and set these men free. Meanwhile, the African Union and other leaders attending the Heads of State summit should not remain silent in the face of these human rights violations.”

Moussa Biram and Abdallahi Matallah Saleck were arrested on 29 June 2016 in Nouakchott, following a protest against a proposed forced eviction. However, they had neither participated in nor organized this event.

Held in a secret location, the pair were tortured during the first days of their detention. On 23 November 2016, they were sentenced to three years in prison, with one year suspended, for incitement of riots and violent rebellion against the government.

During their trial, no evidence of the alleged crimes they were accused of was provided. Amnesty International believes that they are being targeted, silenced and punished because of their anti-slavery activism.

After their trial, Abdallahi and Moussa were transferred in December 2016 to a remote prison, 1200 kilometers from the capital, commonly used to host death row inmates, with no possibility of visits by their lawyers or loved ones.

The case of these two anti-slavery activists is not isolated, as Mauritanian authorities continue to deny the existence of slavery and discrimination and repress human rights defenders who challenge this official discourse.

Since 2014, Amnesty International has documented more than 168 cases of arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders, at least 17 of whom were subjected to torture and other-ill treatment.

The organization has also voiced concerns on Mauritania’s recent adoption of a mandatory death penalty for apostasy-related crimes and the continued detention of blogger Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaïtir.

Mkhaïtir was convicted of apostasy and sentenced to death in December 2014 before an appeal court reduced his punishment to two years imprisonment. Although he has served his sentence, the authorities continue to detain him.

“As it meets in Nouakchott the AU Assembly should not be silent in the face of the human rights violations and abuses in Mauritania. Heads of state and government participating in the summit should use their presence in the country to urge the Mauritanian authorities to end the arbitrary detention of all anti-slavery activists and of blogger Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaïtir,” said Netsanet Belay.