Washington, D.C. – Freedom Now is delighted to announce yesterday’s release of anti-slavery activists Biram Dah Abeid and Brahim Bilal Ramdane after 18 months of wrongful imprisonment. Mr. Dah Abeid and Mr. Ramdane were serving a two year sentence related to their participation in a peaceful protest. Their release came after the Supreme Court re-classified their alleged offenses and commuted their sentence to one year, which was time already served.

“The release of Biram and Brahim is an important victory for Mauritanian civil society and the ongoing campaign to end the abominable institution of slavery,” said Maran Turner, Executive Director of Freedom Now. “These courageous activists can now continue with their important work, which so far has resulted in the liberation of thousands of slaves since 2008. Although yesterday’s Supreme Court decision was welcome news, we are deeply concerned that Mauritanian authorities may continue to harass anti-slavery campaigners. We call on the Government of Mauritania to quash the criminal convictions of Biram and Brahim and ensure that no anti-slavery activists will be subject to future prosecution for the peaceful exercise of fundamental rights”

Mr. Abeid is an abolitionist, politician, and president of Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement – Mauritania (IRA-Mauritania), an organization dedicated to ending slavery in Mauritania. Mr. Ramdane, a former slave himself, is vice president of IRA-Mauritania.

On November 11, 2014, IRA-Mauritania and partner organizations were participating in the Caravan of Liberty, a convoy of activists traveling throughout the country to educate citizens about their rights. The Caravan had been organized by Djiby Sow, president of the minority rights organization KAWTAL. 600 armed police, gendarmerie, and National Guard troops met the peaceful activists on the outskirts of the city of Rosso and used tear gas and beatings to stop the Caravan. Mr. Abeid, Mr. Ramdane, Mr. Sow, and seven other activists were arrested at this time.

The men were charged with “illegal assembly and rebellion,” “encouraging rebellion,” and “refusing to comply with the orders of administrative authorities.” On January 15, 2015, Mr. Abeid, Mr. Ramdane, and Mr. Sow were convicted and sentenced to two years in prison, following a trial that was deficient in evidence. In June 2015, authorities granted Mr. Sow provisional release to seek medical treatment in France. Due to the nature of his release, Mr. Sow may be returned to prison upon reentering Mauritania.

The activists were kept in brutal prison conditions in a small windowless cell in a region of the country where temperatures regularly rose above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The difficult conditions exacerbated Mr. Abeid’s serious health issues. Shortly after Freedom Now submitted a letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on Health, the Mauritanian authorities moved Mr. Abeid and Mr. Ramdane to a prison where they were provided improved medical attention.

Freedom Now submitted a petition to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of Mr. Dah Abeid, Mr. Ramdane, and Mr. Sow in December 2015. An opinion from the Working Group, which was communicated to the government, is expected to be issued shortly.