Biram Dah Abeid, the head of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA), was arrested by Mauritanian authorities late last year on charges of disturbing the peace.
The former presidential candidate was detained along with a number of IRA leaders on the outskirts of Rosso, southwest of the capital Nouakchott.
The group was part of a convoy raising awareness about slavery in the south of the country.
Mauritanian police stopped the activists before they reached Rosso, the capital of Trarza province, and demanded that the convoy obtain an official permit before entering the city. Security sources said the convoy refused the demands of police and was dispersed by force.
In response to the arrests, IRA activists organised a demonstration in the centre of Nouakchott on Tuesday evening. Police broke up the protest and arrested a number of protesters.
Biram Dah Abeid is one of the most prominent anti-slavery activists in Mauritania, and has been jailed several times for his so-called radical position against the state.
The IRA has escalated its campaign against a number of religious scholars and imams over the past few days, accusing them of sanctioning slavery and providing religious justifications for the practice.
Some of the movement’s leaders have subsequently been arrested, especially for insulting the state mufti, Ahmedu Ould Lemrabott Ould Habib al-Rahman.
Earlier this week, the movement announced a convoy to the agricultural Diffa region, on the northern banks of the Senegal River, to raise awareness of farm labour exploitation by landowners.
Online campaign calls for release of Mauritanian anti-slavery activistBy: Al-Araby al-Jadeed staff Date of publication: 15 October, 2015
A leading Arab human rights organisation is seeking to highlight the case of Biram Dah Abeid, an activist imprisoned for his relentless efforts to abolish slavery in Mauritania.
A leading human rights organisation in the Middle East has chosen to draw attention to the plight of a Mauritanian anti-slavery activist, who was arrested last year during a protest against bondage in the west African nation.
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information [ANHRI] has decided to call attention to the case of Biram Dah Abeid this month as a part of its ongoing “Their Freedom is their Right” online campaign.
“My government wants to silence me, by demonising me, harassing me, and imprisoning me”
– Biram Dah Abeid
Abeid, runner-up in the 2014 presidential elections and head of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement [IRA], was jailed in January alongside two other activists in the south-western city of Rosso.
A Mauritanian court sentenced the activist in January to two years in prison for “disturbing public security” and organising an “unlicensed demonstration”.
Abeid released an open letter from prison.
“My government wants to silence me, by demonising me, harassing me, and imprisoning me, and hopes I will abandon this cause by being silent or leaving the country,” the activist wrote.
“Yet I refuse to give in to their blackmail,” he added.
Abeid has devoted his life to fighting slavery – a promise he made to his father, who married a slave and whose family was ripped apart because of slavery.
Slavery is deeply entrenched in the vast, largely desert nation where light-skinned Berber Arab Moors enslaved local black Moors known as Haratin after settling in Mauritania centuries ago.
“Mauritania, has the worst slavery problem on earth – the Haratin represent 50 percent of the Mauritanian population. Babies are born to masters and forced to serve them their whole lives,” Abeid said.
London-based human rights organisation Amnesty International has slammed the imprisonment of Abeid.
“The intensifying crackdown on anti-slavery activists in Mauritania has no legal justification and is symptomatic of the government’s lack of respect for human rights,” said Gaetan Mootoo, Amnesty’s West Africa Researcher.
Mauritania was the last in the world to abolish slavery, in 1981, and since 2007 its practice has been officially designated a crime.
However activists accused government of failing to implement the laws.
‘Their Freedom Is Their Right’
ANHRI launched its social media campaign to in May this year.
“The campaign was launched to shed light on lesser known and forgotten prisoners of opinion. This is to support their right to freedom, protect them from torture and provide them with a fair trial,” ANHRI executive director, Gamal Eid, told al-Araby’s Arabic service.
“Each month we choose a new case of a prisoner of opinion or conscience and highlight their situation through social media by spreading their story and picture,” the leading Egyptian human rights activist added.
The first case to be focused on was Mahmoud Mohamed Hussein, a 19-year-old Egyptian secondary school student who has been imprisoned since January, 2014, for wearing a t-shirt bearing the words: “A nation without torture”.
Mauritanian authorities have said that they started following a “road map” to “combat the remnants and effects of slavery” in January 2014. But campaigners cast doubt on the political will of the government to combat slavery, and accuse it of failing to implement appropriate legislation. –Follow us on Twitter at @Riverinenews
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