Nov 20, 2019

Haratin: Photographer Seif Kusmate Jailed for Portraying Slavery in Mauritania

The Moroccan based photographer, Seif Kusmate, has been arrested, questioned and jailed for four days by the Mauritanian authorities for portraying the endured slavery the Haratin community face in the country. The Mauritanian government, that didn't criminalize the practice until 2007, keep denying the presence of slavery within its borders. Nonetheless, NGOs estimate that between 340.000 and 680.000 people are still living as modern slaves in Mauritania.

This article has been published by Newsweek

The article below was published by NewsDesk: The Mauritanian government doesn't want you to know that 10 to 20 percent of its people are enslaved. Officials don't want you to think about how the West African country was the last to abolish slavery, in 1981, and didn't criminalize the practice until just over a decade ago, in 2007. They don't want you to imagine the conditions of the former slaves, known as Haratin, who now form Mauritania's lowest caste, living in extreme poverty under a regime that denies them access to work, education and the basic rights that come along with citizenship.

And they certainly don't want you to see it.

That's why when Seif Kousmate, a photographer based in Morocco, set out to capture the everyday lives of the country's Haratin people, Mauritanian authorities arrested, jailed and interrogated him. They released Kousmate four days later, returning his laptop and camera, but held on to multiple memory cards with photos he'd taken during the month he spent in Haratin villages, where tents and shanties dot the desert landscape.

Since the government denies any presence of slavery, there is no official data for how many slaves exist; numbers range from 340,000 to 680,000. "The government claims local activists invent these issues," Kousmate says. "The fact that I had pictures and audio interviews of former slaves was a valid proof that it existed and still exists. That is why they considered my pictures a threat." Mauritanian activists and international humanitarian groups continue to sound alarm bells about the conditions, and the United Nations has proposed a number of steps the government could take to end the suffering. Kousmate hopes he can shed light on the human rights abuse with his portraits.


Photo courtesy  Newsweek