Jun 27, 2012

Haratin: Trial of Biram Ould Abeid Begins

The trial of Biram Ould Abeid and his co-defendants begins today with attentions set to focus on the arguments that will feature in the prosecution’s case against the nonviolent activist’s burning of several pages of a Malikite theological book which asserts that slavery is a practice encompassed by the Islamic faith.

Below is an article published by Front Line Defenders:

A trial in which human rights defender Mr Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid and six other colleagues are accused of “threatening state security” is scheduled to open on 27 June 2012.

Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid is President of Initiative pour la Résurgence du Mouvement Abolitionniste en Mauritanie – IRA (Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement in Mauritania), which works to eradicate slavery in Mauritania.

On 26 May 2012, police violently disrupted a protest organised by IRA supporters and another local organisation known as Touche Pas à Ma Nationalité (TPMN) to demand the release of Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid and his colleagues. The defender's wife Leila Mint Ahmed was wounded in the disruption, reportedly by a gas grenade, and was taken to hospital. Other activists taking part in the protest were reportedly severely injured.

On 29 April 2012, ten IRA supporters including Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid were arrested and detained in an unknown location for weeks, in connection with the burning of Islamic law books on 28 April, books which referred to the practice of slavery and were reportedly used to justify it. On 29 May, they were sent to the civilian prison of Dar Ennaim in Nouakchott after a lengthy court appearance in which the defendants were not assisted by their legal counsel. Three other IRA supporters were released on the same day. Those awaiting trial, including Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid, have reportedly not been allowed regular access to their legal team. See Front Line Defenders' urgent appeal dated 18 May 2012 (http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/18356) for more information.

On 04 June, Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid issued a statement from prison clarifying the reasons that prompted him to proceed with the burning of the Islamic law books, including “to draw attention to [their use] as justification of the maintenance of slavery practices”. He also stated that the books did not contain any reference to the Holy Koran or the Hadiths.

Front Line Defenders continues to believe that Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid's detention and the charges against him are solely motivated by his legitimate and peaceful human rights work to eradicate slavery in Mauritania, and reiterates its call on the Mauritanian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release and drop all charges against him and the other IRA members.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities to guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Mauritania are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.