Washington, DC – Freedom Now is pleased to announce the release of 10 anti-slavery activists in Mauritania. A total of 13 activists had been detained since June 2016 and were serving prison sentences between three and 15 years for their involvement in anti-government protests. On November 18, an appeals court acquitted three activists of the charges and reduced the sentences of seven more.
“The Mauritanian government’s continued harassment and imprisonment of anti-slavery activists is a grave injustice,” said Freedom Now Executive Director Maran Turner. “We are greatly relieved that some of these activists are now free to continue their critical human rights work. However, we urge the government to release the remaining activists and immediately investigate their claims of torture.”
The 13 members of the organization Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA) were arrested between June 29 and July 3, 2016. The arrests came in the wake of the government’s forced relocation of members of the Haratin ethnic group from an informal settlement in the capital city of Nouakchott. The forced relocation was met with peaceful protests, eliciting a violent response by security forces and ensuing riots in which both protesters and police were injured.
The government initially blamed IRA for the violence. As a result, the group organized peaceful gatherings and press conferences to protest the forcible relocations, police violence, and the arbitrary detentions of the demonstrators. Between June 29 and July 3, four IRA members were hospitalized and 13 IRA leaders were detained. This crackdown on the IRA occurred the very week that IRA president Biram Dah Abeid and vice-president Brahim Ramdane were in Washington, DC, being awarded the Trafficking in Persons Report Hero Award by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
All of the IRA members who were arrested had initially been disappeared; neither their lawyers nor their family members were able to obtain any information about their whereabouts. On July 12, 2016, the detainees were brought to the court in Nouakchott. According to press reports, the detainees have been charged with inciting violence, belonging to a banned group, and aggression against security forces. The court ordered the individuals to be kept in pre-trial detention in Mauritania’s notorious Dar Na-im prison.
At least one of the detained IRA members displayed signs of severe torture in the courtroom; his wrists and feet were bruised and he was reportedly urinating blood. The prosecutor in Nouakchott has refused to investigate the individuals’ allegations of torture.
On August 18, 2016, the 13 activists were convicted, receiving sentences ranging from three to 15 years.