September 19, 2016

Crackdown on Anti-Slavery Movement in Mauritania Continues after Release of Biram Dah Abeid

The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) has gathered recent news and first-hand information about the current developments in Mauritania. Between 30 June and 3 July 2016, the Mauritanian Government arrested thirteen anti-slavery activists following riots in an underprivileged area of Nouakchott which the government attributes to IRA-Mauritania members (Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement) without proof. The thirteen activists have been sentenced to between 3 and 15 years in prison following an irregular trial.

 

The current developments are particularly worrying due to the wide presence of modern-day slavery in Mauritania. According to the recently-published 2016 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 Khalil” (a non-sacred interpretation of Islam). 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. Furthermore, he was arrested again during a peaceful protest march in November 2014, only a few months after coming second in Mauritania’s Presidential Election, and sentenced to 2 years of imprisonment. He was released after 20 months in May 2016.

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 their current clampdown on the anti-slavery movement (please click here for our Press Release).

 

Timeline of Events:

 

19 September 2016

The Supreme Court has authorised the appeal to be held in a remote location, away from Nouakchott, where lawyers, families, and NGOs might not be able to access. A neaurosurgeon has visited two of the imprisoned IRA members, Moussa Bilal Biram and Abdallahi Matallah Saleck, and found injuries congruent with torure and with being tied up for long periods of time.

 

11 September 2016

The Justice Minister has given orders to move the 13 convicted IRA members to remote prisons in the desert, thus making family and NGO visits almost impossible. They are also isolated from medical services in a flagrant violation of their human rights and their situation is extremely worrying.

 

9 September 2016

Biram Dah Abeid is touring West Africa to denounce slavery in Mauritania and encourage citizens to pressure their governments into action. After Mali and Senegal, he was in Ivory Coast yesterday [8 September] before heading to Gambia, Burkina Faso, and eventually South Africa. Abeid drew parallels with the struggle against Apartheid and presented abolitionist activism as a duty for Black Africans.

 

2 September 2016

Creation and first General Assembly of IRA-Mali following a meeting between Biram Dah Abeid and a coalition of Malian human rights NGOs.

 

19 August 2016

The 13 IRA activists were convicted yesterday [18 August 2016] after a bogus trial, during which the defendants weren’t allowed to argue their case. These prison sentences, which range from 3 to 15 years of detention, come as a “devastating blow” for the IRA and the Mauritanian anti-slavery movement in general, as argued by a spokesperson for Anti-Slavery International. The decision of the court was immediately condemned by the US, UNPO, and IRA founder Biram Dah Abeid.

Sentenced to 15 years in prison: Amadou Tidiane Diop, Abdallahi Abdou Diop, Abadalli Seck dit Vieux, Moussa Biram, Jemal Bleyil.

Sentenced to 5 years in prison: Balla Touré, Hamady Lehbous.

Sentenced to 3 years in prison: Mohamed Daty, Mohamed Jarroulah, Khrtzy Rahel, Ousmane Lô, Ousmane Anne, Ahmaed Hamar Vall.

 

4 August 2016

Following weeks of arbitrary detention in inhumane conditions, the trial of 13 IRA-Mauritania members was held on 3 August 2016. The anti-slavery campaigners appeared in court in the capital Nouakchott, accused of rebellion, use of violence and attacking public authorities. Opening debates occurred between the prosecutor and the group of lawyers who requested the immediate cancellation of the completely illegal procedure. The tribunal forced the accused to appear before the court despite their wishes.

 

15 July 2016

Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Eliot L. Engel, made a statement on the situation of 13 IRA activists detained by the Mauritanian authorities. He expressed his concerns about the baseless allegations of wrongdoing against the detainees and their obvious signs of physical abuse. He further praised the work of the anti- slavery activists and condemned the actions of the Mauritanian authorities.  

 

12 July 2016

13 members of IRA-Mauritania were unfairly charged for "armed assembly", "violence against agents of the public force" rebellion and "membership of an unregistered organization". Tortured and deprived of any means of communication to relatives or legal counsel, the 13 were held from between three and twelve days without access to medical or sanitary facilities. 

 

4 July 2016

A number of anti-slavery activists, many of which have an official role in IRA, were arrested last Thursday [30 June 2016] and in the following days. On 3 July, two other IRA members were arrested following a press conference to comment on these activists’ arrest, including Biram Dah Abeid's advisor Hamady Lebouss. This spate of arrests followed a riot in gazra Bouamatou on 29 June, which the government claims was organised by IRA. 

 

1 July 2016

The Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (TIP), US Department of State, has chosen Biram Dah Abeid and Brahim Bilal Ramdhane among its 2016 heroes. Mr Abeid and Mr Ramdhane are the founders of the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA), an organisation that struggles against injustice and slavery in Mauritania. This is one of many prizes awarded to them in the abolitionist struggle and it comes only a few weeks after their release after almost two years of imprisonment.

 

3 June 2016

The recently liberated Biram Dah Abeid has sets his sights on the 2019 Presidential elections in Mauritania. Seen as a strong advocate for equality in a country afflicted by rigid and longstanding oppression, his candidacy could be monumental for the prospects of the Haratin people and the country as a whole.

 

22 June 2016

IRA-Mauritania has been awarded the prestigious James Lawson Award for Achievement in the Practice of Nonviolent Conflict, presented by the Washington-based International Centre for Nonviolent Conflict. The award was given in recognition of the organisation’s “nonviolent combat and for its struggle to free slaves and conquer slavery in Mauritania.” 

 

24 May 2016

Two slave-owners were successfully prosecuted under the law criminalising slavery and sentenced to five years in prison; this is a first step in the right direction and anti-slavery activists hope this example will serve as a deterrent for other slave-owners.

 

18 May 2016

Mauritanian anti-slavery activists Biram Dah Abeid and Brahim Bilal Ramdhane have finally been released from jail after serving 20 months of a 2-year sentence. The Supreme Court has ruled that the facts of their case must be requalified to instead constitute an offense punishable by only one year of imprisonment, and thus on that basis, held that the activists should be released. The activists were arrested in November 2014 during a peaceful anti-slavery march. In January 2015, they were sentenced to two years' imprisonment on charges of 'inciting trouble', 'belonging to an unrecognized organisation', 'leading an unauthorised rally', and 'violence against the police'. The whole judicial process violated several procedural laws and during their detention the two activists were deprived of many rights normally recognised to prisoners. UN SG Ban Ki-Moon welcomes their release.  

 

27 April 2016

UNPO publishes Biram Dah Abeid’s open letter from prison to the Mauritanian people, the international community, and especially his fellow anti-slavery activists, asking them to keep up their efforts and to not give up the fight. His letter is filled with gratitude, honesty, and strength for the abolitionist movement, and led to protests in from of the Mauritanian Embassy in Germany and the Bundestag the next day.

 

16 March 2016

The United Nations Human Rights Council, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, and the Nonviolent Radical Party, Transnational and Transparty organised a side-event to the adoption of the outcomes of the Universal Periodic Review of Mauritania at the XXXI Regular Session of the UNHRC in Geneva entitled “Slavery in Mauritania: Abolished in Theory, Present in Practice”. The event drew attention to the concerning human rights situation in Mauritania and especially that of the Haratin community. 

 

14 March 2016

Mauritania approves the signature of a UN protocol aiming at ending modern day slavery. Even though the intention to sign the UN treaty is a step in the right direction, local activists doubt the government’s sincerity, especially since the country’s criminalization of slavery in 2007 has not ended slaveholders’ impunity – rather, anti-slavery activists continue to be persecuted and jailed.

 

7 March 2016

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon praised Mauritania’s “invaluable” engagement in and importance for the region’s security architecture. Ban also commended on the country’s efforts to penalize slavery, thereby deliberately overlooking the lack of actual implementation of the so-called “Roadmap to Combat the Vestiges of Slavery”. Nonetheless, local and international human rights organisations highlight the Mauritanian government’s lack of will to actually improve the situation.

 

18 February 2016

Dr Saad Nave, also known by the name Saad Louleid, has been officially excluded from the IRA - Mauritania organisation. He is currently in Europe with as objective to cause confusion in IRA rhetoric by passing himself as IRA Vice-president. 

 

11 January 2016

Seven IRA-Mauritania activists have been arrested during an anti-slavery protest in Nouakchott. They accuse the Mauritanian government of violating their fundamental right to protest. They accuse the Mauritanian government of violating their fundamental right to protest, which is clearly granted by the constitution. In addition to this, they demand the release of the IRA’s president Biram Dah Abeid and vice-president Brahim Ould Bilal, who have been in jail for over a year.


10 December 2015

IRA-Mauritania was awarded this year’s Human Rights Tulip Award – a prestigious prize awarded by the Dutch governmentin recognition of their continuous fight against slavery and discrimination in Mauritania. The prize includes a sum of 100 000 euros to help finance IRA’s activities and encourage the organisation to continue to defend human rights. 

 

1 December 2015

The UNPO and IRA-Mauritania were represented in a hearing at the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights. It consisted of Mr Abidine Merzough, European Coordinator for IRA and lifelong anti-slavery activist, speaking about the hypocrisy of the Mauritanian government concerning slavery. Moreover, alongside a number of other spokespersons, MEP Mark Demesmaeker pointed out the lack of action of the European Commission and the EU’s responsibility to put more pressure on this issue.

On the same day, a protest was being held in front of the European Parliament by Haratin groups, including IRA activists, manifesting against the current situation in Mauritania. 

 

20 August 2015

After seven months of imprisonment, Biram Dah Abeid and Brahim Bilal Ramdhane’s appeal request was denied. The change in location of the trial - from Nouakchott, Mauritania’s capital, to Aleg, a much smaller and remote town - resulted in the inability of a number of actors to attend, thus suggesting that the process was politically biased from the very beginning.  This assumption is reinforced by the refusal of the Mauritanian government to recognise this issue. However, reportedly Biram Dah Abeid refuses to give up despite this set back, and says he will continue to fight for his freedom of expression and against slavery in Mauritania. He currently has to remain in prison until having served his two year sentence. 

 

13 August 2015

On 13 August 2015, a new anti-slavery law was adopted by the Parliament of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. This new law considers slavery as a crime against humanity and poses harsher sentences, increasing the number of years of imprisonment from ten to twenty. Although legally representing an improvement in comparison to the 2007 law, there are fears that in practice it will bring no real change.

On the occasion of the passing of the law, Minority Rights Group International (MRGI) and Anti-Slavery International quickly released a joint statement expressing that the situation in Mauritania will only change when the judicial and political framework would enable the law to be correctly implemented.  As Sarah Mathewson, Africa Programme Co-ordinator at Anti-Slavery International, clearly pointed out, there is a paradox between a positive legislative development concerning slavery on the one hand, and the imprisonment and prosecution of the anti-slavery activists supporting that same cause, on the other. 

 

26 June 2015
On 26 June 2015, Mauritanian media announced the provisional release of antislavery activist and President of the NGO Kawtal, Djiby Sow, for health reasons. According to his family, his medical condition is worrying. Mr Sow suffers from the consequences of the hunger strike he participated in with his fellow activists Mr Biram Dah Abeid and Mr Brahim Jiddou. He suffers from kidney complications and skin problems. 

The NGO Kawtal Ngam Yellitaare expressed its gratitude toward Ms Fatimata Mbaye, lawyer and President of the Mauritanian Human Rights Association; international and national organisations; and diplomatic institutions, for the efforts they have put into pressuring the authorities to release Mr Djiby Sow. The United States Embassy in Nouakchott published a press release welcoming the release.

Meanwhile, the medical condition of Mr Abeid is still deteriorating. According to the International Human Rights Federation, he suffers from stomach and dental pain as well as hypertension. He does not have access to medical attention in prison and the strict diet that his condition requires is not respected by the prison authorities. 

The appeal trial of Mr Abeid, Mr Ramdhane, Mr Sow and Mr Jiddou is still pending.

 

22 June 2015

It has now been more than seven months since Biram Dah Abeid was incarcerated on 11 November 2014.

IRA members Dr Saad Ould Louleyd and Ms Marieme Cheikh have recently been released and are now both leading a delegation to raise IRA’s voice abroad.

The delegation led by Dr Louleyd, travelled to the United States and was welcomed by members of the Mauritanian community in Washington, DC on 10 June. Later, they travelled to Philadelphia and met with the mayor of the city. The delegation will continue travelling to several big American cities where they are planning to meet NGOs and members of the civil society.

The second delegation, led by Ms Cheikh, but also by leading member of Kawtaal Mr Malik Lom, is travelling around Europe and arrived in Germany on 16 June. The group will also visit other European countries such as Italy and France.

Mauritanian President Mr Aziz came across IRA protesters during his visit to the region of Brakna. The activists were holding photos of Biram Dah Abeid, Brahim Jiddou and Djibi Sow, and signs asking for Biram to be freed and Aziz to resign. In response to this protest, the President decided to preventively arrest all IRA activists living around Rosso before his visit to the city. It was reported that these arrests were accompanied by torture, which has become a common practice under the ruling of President Aziz. These arrests have not discouraged the IRA activists, who continue to demonstrate two to three times a week in both Nouakchott and Aleg.

 

11 May 2015

According to the latest news received by IRA activists, Mr Abeid and Mr Jiddou’s appeal trial is scheduled to take place on 22 May 2015 in Aleg. Mr Abeid and Mr Jiddou’s lawyers have nevertheless asked for a release on bail until the trial, but have not yet received any official response from the authorities.

IRA members, Mr Ahmed Amou Ould Moustapha, a radiologist, and Mr Mohamed Baba, a university professor, both living and working in France, visited imprisoned IRA activists in Aleg on 15 April 2015. They found anti-slavery Biram Dah Abeid and Brahim Jiddou determined and in relatively good health.

Mr Abeid reported feeling thankful for the actions led by IRA in the south of France, Paris, Brussels, Rome, Geneva, Berlin, Washington, and many other cities.

IRA-France has been organizing a mock tribunal with other French NGOs, such as Amnesty International France or Agir Ensemble pour les Droits de l’Homme. His wife, Ms Leyla Mint Ahmed, has been organizing the resistance movement in Aleg.

Mr Jiddou’s family has been facing a hard financial situation, since his high school teacher salary has been suspended, while his family lacks other means of subsistence.

Mr Moustapha and Mr Baba also visited anti-slavery Mr Djiby Sow on 24 April in Nouakchott, Mauritania, where he was transferred after participating in a hunger strike with Mr Abeid and Mr Jiddou in January 2015. He suffers from kidney complications and skin problems. 

 

24 March 2015

On 19 March 2015, Nouakchott Criminal Court delivered its verdict on the trial of IRA activists Mr Brahim Jiddou, Mr Yacoub Inalla and Mr Sabar Ould Houssein, condemning them to six, five and seven months in prison, respectively. IRA-Mauritania has underlined that this verdict highlights the great influence of Ulamas on the Mauritanian justice system, and is believed to be a result of the fact that the Government feels threatened by the widespread support the abolitionist movement is enjoying at the international level. Mr Jiddou, Mr Inalla and Mr Sabar Ould Hossein were arrested on 24 October 2014 after having been excommunicated by Imam Ahmedou Ould Lemrabott Ould Habibou Rahmane.

From 16 to 20 March, a UNPO delegation travelled to Mauritania with the primary objectives to visit Mr Biram Dah Abeid, who is a member of the UNPO Presidency, in prison and to assess efforts at the national level to combat slavery and its aftermaths.  In addition to meeting with various governmental agencies, the two delegates also had the opportunity to talk to representatives of IRA-Mauritania, SOS Esclaves, Collectif des Victimes de la Répression (COVIRE), Collectif des Rescapés et Militaires (COREMI), Touche pas à ma nationalité, and several other civil society actors.

 

12 March 2015

Today, the criminal court of Nouakchott acquitted Dr Saad Ould Louleid, Mr Yacoub Ould Moussa and Ms Mariem Mint Cheikh Dieng. They had been charged a few months ago with organizing, calling for and participating in an unauthorized protest and being members of an unrecognized organization.

IRA members have expressed their joy after this verdict, by gathering in front of the civil and women’s prison of Nouakchott, where they will wait for their fellow activists to be released. 

 

11 March 2015

The trial of IRA members Brahim Jiddou, Yacoub Inalla and Sabar Houssein, arrested on 24 October 2014 after having been excommunicated by Imam Ahmedou Ould Lemrabott Ould Habibou Rahmane, began on 5 March 2015.

During the trial, the prosecution demanded a two-year prison sentence and a fine of 60,000UM for the activists. The lawyers of IRA members have underlined the very political tone of the accusations and the trial. The verdict is expected to be delivered on 19 March 2015.

On 9 March 2015, several dozens of IRA supporters met in front of the Courthouse in Aleg to demand the release of Biram Dah Abeid, Brahim Ould Bilal and Djiby Sow. The police and guard units on patrol violently dispersed the peaceful gathering. Several demonstrators were injured, including activist Fatimata Fall Mint Achour, who was taken to the regional hospital by fellow campaigners.

It has been reported that the group of activists, detained since 12 November 2014, has suffered from extortion and robbery at the Nouakchott Prison.

This week, for unknown reasons, prison guards have searched the cell of IRA activist Dr Saad Ould Louleid. Immediately following the inspection, the activist noticed the disappearance of his money, watch and other valuables. The IRA activists have also been repeatedly subjected to verbal and physical harassment by other prisoners. The assaulted activists filed complaints to the penitentiary authorities, without success. 

 

26 February 2015

The negotiations between Mr Biram Dah Abeid, Mr Brahim Ramdhan Bilal, Mr Sow Djiby and the administration of the prison of Aleg where they are detained, were successful, also thanks to the assistance of a delegation of the National Bar Association (ONA). All three prisoners obtained the right to receive visits from their friends and families three days a week. Additionally, they can now have access to sunny parts of the prison, practice sports, listen to the radio and watch the television. They have also been told that their cases have been transferred to the Nouakchott Court of Appeal. Following these developments, the three anti-slavery activists sent a letter to the Prosecutor to announce the end of their hunger strike. 

 

25 February 2015

The announcement of the trial verdict of Mariem Mint Cheikh Dieng, Dr Saad Louleyd and Yacoub Ould Moussa is postponed to 12 March 2015. 

In the meantime, a delegation of the Bar Association visit the three prisoners of conscience, Mr Biram Dah Abeid, Mr Brahim Bilal Ramdhan and Mr Djibi Sow, in prison. The association states that the prisoners are in 'the right frame of mind' and calls upon the international community to lead a strong and urgent action leading to the release of the anti-slavery activists. It is further reported that Mr Djibi Sow is no longer participating in the hunger strike on the advice of his doctors.

 

23 February 2015

After the demands in their letter sent on 19 February are not met, Biram Dah Abeid, Brahim Bilal Ramdhan and Jibril Mamadou Sow being an indefinite hunger strike in protest. For more information, read our press release and copies of the ultimatum letter.

 

19 February 2015

The Belgian branch of IRA-Mauritania hold a sit-in demonstration in front of the European Parliament on this day in order to denounce the arbitrary arrests over the last few months and the daily human rights violations taking place in Mauritania.

UNPO recieves a copy of an ultimatum letter sent by Biram Dah Abeid, Brahim Bilal Ramdhan and Jibril Mamadou Sow to the Mauritanian authorities. In the letter they make three demands: 1) that they are transferred to the prison within the correct jurisdiction in Nouakchott; 2) that their families and loved ones, from whom the prisoners have been denied from seeing, are allowed visitation rights; 3) that their fellow prisoners who are also being arbitrarily detained are given their right to a fair trial.

The letter also stipulates that if these demands are not met then the three prisoners will begin passive protestation in the prison, and any harm that comes to them thereof will be the responsibility of the Mauritanian authorities.

 

13 February 2015

The trial of Mariem Mint Cheikh Dieng, Dr Saad Louleyd and Yacoub Ould Moussa is postponed to Thursday, 19 February 2015, after the judge cut short the questioning of Ms Cheikh Dieng by a defense lawyer. The lawyers of the accused then walk out of the courtroom in protest. IRA-Mauritania activists and supporters had gathered outside the courthouse to demand the acquittal of the three human rights activists as well as the release of all other detained and imprisoned anti-slavery campaigners, including Biram Dah Abeid.

 

12 February 2015

Several hundred members and supporters of IRA-Mauritania demonstrate gather in front of the courthouse in Nouakchott demanding the release of the detained and imprisoned anti-slavery activists. The trial of Dr Saad Louleyd and other IRA-Mauritania members has been postponed several times over the last week but finally starts today.

 

10 February 2015

Mr Biram Dah Abeid’s wife, Mrs Leila Ahmed Khliva, states that she has been denied access to the prison and can therefore not visit her husband.

 

5 February 2015

The trail against Dr Saad Louleyd, the spokesperson of IRA-Mauritania who had been arrested on 11 November 2014, Mariem Mint Cheikh Dieng and Yacoub Ould Moussa starts in the regional court in Nouakchott. They have been charged with organizing, calling for and participating in an unauthorized protest and being members of an unrecognized organization. However, the trial is postponed to Thursday, 12 February 2015. The judge gives no reason for this decision. However, activists believe that today’s court date was rushed and only organized in order to end the hunger strike, which started on 3 February 2015. It should also be noted that Dr Saad Louleyd suffers from diabetes and needs daily medical monitoring, which he has been refused for at least part of his detention.

In anticipation of the start of the trial, members and supporters of IRA-Mauritania hold a sit-in protest outside the courthouse. The protesters demanded the acquittal of the three activists, greater justice and the eradication of slavery in the country. The police, armed with tear gas and batons, monitor the situation closely.

 

3 February 2015

Seven anti-slavery activists and IRA-Mauritania members currently awaiting trial start a hunger strike to protest against the continued delay of their trials. The seven activists are Dr Saad Louleyd (IRA-Mauritania’s spokesperson who was arrested on 11 November 2014), Mariem Mint Cheikh Dieng (the private secretary of Biram Dah Abeid arrested on 12 November 2014), Yacoub Ould Moussa, Yacou Inalla, Saber Houssein, Brahim Ould Jiddou and Baba Traoré. The latter four activists have been in detention since the end of October 2014.

The strikers also demand that Mr Sabar Houssein receives adequate medical assistance. Mr Sabar was beaten by prison guards in Dar Naim before being transferred to a prison in Nouakchott and has yet to receive medical assistance despite his condition deteriorating.

 

26 January 2015

The motion tabled by Jeremy Corbyn MP in the British Parliament has, so far, been signed by 16 MPs. According to the UK Parliament’s website, the majority of such early day motions receive only one or two signatures, while around 70 or 80 a year receive over one hundred.

 

22 January 2015

During a press conference in Nouakchott, the spokesperson of the Mauritanian Government and Minister of Relations, Mr Izid Bih Ould Mohamed Mahmoud, reportedly announces that the Mauritanian Government is not against holding early Presidential elections. Allegedly, he further points out that following the demand of the opposition for early elections, the Government had proposed talks regarding this matter, to which the opposition has not yet responded. UNPO will continue to monitor developments regarding potential early Presidential elections in Mauritania.

 

20 January 2015

The delegation of the European Union in Mauritania issues a statement raising its concern regarding the heavy sentence imposed on the abolitionist campaigners on 15 January 2015. The delegation reiterates the commitment of the EU to respect all human rights, including the rights of association and peaceful protest, and promises to monitor further developments regarding this case with particular attention. It also encourages the Mauritanian authorities to adequately tackle slavery and strengthen national unity through peaceful dialogues.

 

19 January 2015

Local sources inform UNPO that a sit-in protest, organized by IRA-Mauritania and the anti-slavery organization Kawtal following the announcement of the verdict, was violently suppressed by the police using tear gas. Several activists were beaten, forcibly abducted and dropped off dozens of kilometers away from the location of the protest. Among the people injured was Mr Boubacar Messaoud, President of the anti-slavery organization SOS Esclaves, who has been hospitalized. Some protesters are still missing after being taken away by authorities. Mr Elhaj Ould Elid, the head of IRA-Mauritania in Riyadh, was able to send a message asking for help, however, he was unable to communicate his location.

On the same day, the Chair of the Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI) of the European Parliament, Ms Elena Valenciano, releases a press statement condemning the imprisonment of the three activists, including Biram Dah Abeid. Ms Valenciano calls for the unconditional and immediate release of the imprisoned anti-slavery campaigners, for the Mauritanian authorities to repeal the court verdict and stop the use of force against abolitionist protesters.

 

16 January 2015

The U.S. Department of State releases a press statement expressing its concern over the two year prison sentence of Mr Abeid, Mr Bilal Ramdhane and Mr Sow. The statement further called for a fair, transparent and impartial review of the verdict and committed itself to continuing to support the struggle against slavery in the country.

The prominent Congressman and member of the Democratic Party, Mr Eliot L. Engel, makes a personal statement regarding the recent court verdict stating that he is ‘deeply disappointed to hear of the sentencing’. In addition, he calls upon the Mauritanian authorities to release the imprisoned activists and to allow IRA-Mauritania to register legally.

 

15 January 2015

The court announces its verdict in the case against the nine anti-slavery activists arrested on 11 November 2014, including Mr Biram Dah Abeid. While two thirds of the activists are acquitted, Mr Biram Dah Abeid, Brahim Bilal Ramdhane (Vice-President of IRA-Mauritania) and Djibi Sow (President of the anti-slavery organization Kawtal) are sentenced to two years in prison. 

Following the announcement, supporters of IRA-Mauritania remain outside the Tribunal of Rosso calling for the release of the three campaigners under strict surveillance from the security forces before the police use tear gas to disperse the protesters. One activist expresses his shock stating that there was no evidence justifying such a conviction. Moreover, the lawyers of the three campaigners vow to appeal the verdict.

In the British Parliament, Jeremy Corbyn MP tables an early day motion condemning the sentence of the three anti-slavery activists in Mauritania. The motion expresses concern about the detention and treatment of the activists, the trial conditions and the possible ramifications of this sentence on Mauritania’s civil society, as well as the global struggle against modern slavery. It calls upon the UK Government to raise these concerns with the Mauritanian authorities and the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, and to cooperate with its partners in the EU regarding this issue.

 

31 December 2014

The criminal court in Rosso rules to put the file of the imprisoned activists under advisement and will announce its verdict on 15 January 2015. The application for bail by the defense lawyers is rejected.

 

29 December 2014

As the trial against Mr Abeid and the other activists arrested on 11 November 2014 continues, the prosecution asks for a prison sentence of 5 years, a fine of 540,000 UM (the equivalent to about 1800 US dollars) and for the confiscation of all property belonging to IRA-Mauritania.

 

25 December 2014

Meanwhile, Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir is sentenced to death in Mauritania for allegedly insulting the Prophet Mohammad. Mr Mkhaitir was arrested on 2 January 2014 after he had published an article about the caste system and slavery in Mauritania on his blog. Although the article criticizes some of the actions of the prophet, the 28-year-old denies insulting the prophet and claims that the article has been misinterpreted.

During the hearing on 23 December 2014, Mr Mkhaitir was left without a lawyer to defend him, as his original lawyer decided to resign after he and his family received death threats. The state-appointed attorneys later also distanced themselves from the case due to receiving similar threats.

 

24 December 2014

The criminal court in Rosso (South) starts the proceedings against Biram Dah Abeid, six other members of IRA-Mauritania and Djiby Sow, President of the anti-slavery organization Kawtal. The accused are charged with inciting violence, disturbing public order, offending members of the authorities and being members of an unregistered organization.

The proceedings start after a 5-hour delay, while a crowd has gathered outside the courthouse peacefully protesting for the release of the activists. When being allowed to address the allegations against him, Mr Abeid accuses the Mauritanian regime of targeting the leaders of the Haratin community, including himself. He points out that the caravan was authorized by the Ministry of Interior and that its participants were well organized and peaceful. Moreover, he states that IRA-Mauritania had filed an application to become a registered organization a long time ago but, as of yet, had not received a rejection from the authorities. After around 3 hours, the judge suspends the trial till the next day, 25 December 2014.

On the same day, the Embassy of the United States of America in Mauritania publishes a press statement calling for a transparent, fair and objective trial of the imprisoned activists. It further states that it is closely monitoring the proceedings and the situation of the IRA-Mauritania campaigners.

 

23 December 2014

The National Assembly of Mauritania unanimously adopts a resolution calling for the European Parliament to stop interfering in the internal affairs of the country. The resolution takes note of the European Parliament urgent resolution from 18 December 2014 regarding the recent developments in Mauritania and highlights the alleged efforts and success of the Mauritanian Government to adequately tackle slavery. It further states that the National Assembly regrets and rejects the stipulations contained in the European Parliament resolution. It calls upon the Mauritanian Government and all national stakeholders, including human rights organizations and economic actors, within Mauritania to defend the country’s sovereignty.

 

18 December 2014

The European Parliament passes an urgent resolution on Mauritania, in particular on the case of Biram Dah Abeid, following weeks of lobbying work by UNPO. The vote is approved almost unanimously by the 751 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) following a debate in the Strasbourg hemicycle, during which MEPs from all political groups denounced the arrest of Biram Dah Abeid, and calls for his immediate release. The resolution also reiterates the importance of Mr Abeid’s IRA-Mauritania movement, and underlines the necessity of dismantling slavery in Mauritania. 

 

17 December 2014

UNPO learns that the imprisoned activists and their lawyers are notified of a hearing that is supposed to take place on the same day in front of the judge. On the advice of their lawyers, Mr Abeid and the other detainees refuse to appear before the court. The lack of notice for the hearing infringes Mauritanian trial procedures and, according to the lawyers, constitutes an infringement of due process. As stipulated in Mauritanian law, defendants have the right to legal counsel, the right to present a defense and the right to advance notification of judicial proceedings.

The court, as a response to the refusal of the defendants to appear before the judge, reschedules the hearing for Wednesday, 24 December 2014.

On the same day, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office replies to the parliamentary question submitted by Angus Robertson MP on 11 December 2014. The office assures that they know about the recent arrests and are following the situation closely. The statement further explains that the British authorities have met with a range of stakeholders involved with the issue, including members of the IRA-Mauritania and have discussed the matter with their partner in the EU on 3 December 2014. The office promises to ‘continue to engage with Mauritania on human rights issues’.

 

15 December 2014

UNPO learns that a Mauritanian government delegation will be travelling to Strasbourg this week in order to discourage MEPs from passing a strong Urgent Resolution. This resolution aims to pressure the Mauritanian authorities to release Biram Dah Abeid and his fellow activists and thoroughly address persistent slavery in the country.  

In addition, Biram Dah Abeid's advisor Hamady Ould Lehbouss reports that the Mauritanian authorities have confiscated Mr Abeid's phone, although a judge had authorised Mr Abeid to receive visitors and have access to a mobile phone while in prison. Mr Lehbouss suspects that the Mauritanian authorities have denied Mr Abeid access to his phone to prevent him from giving regular updates to the campaigners fighting for his release, as they fear such contact might counter their lobbying work in Europe.

 

12 December 2014

The OHCHR issues a report made by its delegation in Mauritania. The delegation was sent to investigate allegations of torture and poor conditions of detention for those who were arrested on 11 November and in the subsequent weeks, and to investigate allegations of disproportionate force used against the activists during the unauthorized demonstration.

The delegation met with authorities involved in the arrest and detention, as well as some of the activists themselves. They reported that "in general, the conditions of detention in the places that were visited do not comply with the minimum international standards, most particularly the detention units and their ventilation."

However, they concluded that there was no evidence suggesting that acts amounting to torture had occurred. They also concluded that there was not enough evidence to determine whether there had been a disproportionate amount of force used in the arrest of the activists and if ill treatment had occurred in the first days of their detention. Therefore, “the Office remains concerned by the allegations that were made on this issue." 

The OHCHR urges the Mauritanian government to launch a thorough and independent investigation, free an individual who is detained only for having peacefully protested, that all registers of detainees are maintained properly to help keep detention conditions transparent, and to ensure that all detainees have constant access to medical care.

On the same day, two Members of the House of Representatives of the Netherlands, Professor Eric Smaling and Mr Harry van Bommel (both members of the Socialist Party), publish a parliamentary question asking the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs if he knows how the imprisoned activists in Mauritania are being treated. Moreover, they ask if he agrees with Amnesty International's demands that the Mauritanian Government must end its clampdown on anti-slavery activists and release the detained campaigners unconditionally, and if he is willing to get in touch with Mauritanian authorities to express his concern over the situation.

 

11 December 2014

Angus Robertson, a Member of the Parliament of the United Kingdom belonging to the Scottish National Party (SNP), addresses a written parliamentary question at the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office asking what representation the UK Government has made to the Mauritanian Government on the continued detention of Mr Biram Dah Abeid and the other imprisoned anti-slavery activists in Mauritania.

 

8 December 2014

Biram Dah Abeid publishes a letter from prison with the help of his lawyers. In the letter, the anti-slavery activist warns the crackdown on civil society by the Mauritanian Government could lead to nation-wide tensions and conflicts that might be irreversible. He further notes that his colleagues and he demand their ‘right to appear before the justice of men’. He promises that: ‘We will leave prison when and only when this has been realized, unless we are expelled, in which case we will return and re-assume our position as oppressed people waging a struggle’.

 

4 December 2014

Charles Tannock and Mark Demesmaeker, Members of the European Parliament, submit an urgent parliamentary question asking for a written answer from the European Commission regarding the recent arrests in Mauritania. The questions asked if the Vice-President of the Commission is aware of these recent developments, if she will call upon the Mauritanian authorities to release the imprisoned campaigners and increase the Commission’s efforts to encourage the Mauritanian authorities to adequately tackle slavery.

 

27 November 2014

Yacoub Moussa, a member of IRA-Mauritania, is arrested 16 days after the original wave of arrests occurred. This signals a resolve on the part of the Mauritanian government to continue its suppression of civil society and political opposition.

 

20 November 2014

Biram is taken before an Investigative Judge, who confirms the following charges being held against him: Inciting violence, disturbing public order, offending a member of the authorities (outrage à l’autorité) and being a member of an unregistered organization. 

The Investigative Judge denies bail to Biram but provides no explanation or reasons for the denial. Biram, therefore, remains in detention.

 

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

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