Mauritania urged to revoke anti-slavery activists sentencing

Authorities in Mauritania must revoke jail sentences given to four anti-slavery activists who protested against the enslavement of a ten-year old girl, said Amnesty International.
 
The four men, who belong to an anti-slavery non-governmental organisation, were arrested on 4 August on charges of “unauthorised gathering" and “rebellion". They were each given a six-month suspended sentence by a Nouakchott court on 22 August.

Amnesty International’s Africa Director Erwin van der Borght said: “Sentencing people for simply exercising their right to peaceful protest is a travesty of justice.  The draconian response to the work of these activists suggests that the Mauritanian authorities are trying to cover up the fact that slavery takes place in the country.” The four activists are named as Tourad Ould Zeid, Cheikhna Ould Cheyakh, Moulay Abdel Karim Touré and Moctar Ould Mohamed. All are members of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement in Mauritania.
 
After discovering last month that the ten-year old girl was being held in slavery by a woman in Nouakchott, the IRA reported the case to the police.
 
The protesters say the woman was arrested and charged with enslaving a minor but was then provisionally released, on condition that she reports to the police station every week.  The child is reportedly still missing. Erwin van der Borght added: “It’s deeply disturbing that Mauritanian authorities are punishing people who file cases against those suspected of slavery practice with suspended sentences, thereby risking imprisonment if they try to protest again. The Mauritanian authorities must immediately revoke these sentences." Another anti-slavery activist who took part in the 4 August protest told Amnesty International police had beaten him when they arrested him.
 
He was detained for five days at Nouakchott’s Dar Naïm prison but acquitted by the court on 22 August. The activist said:
 
“They kicked me with their heavy boots and punched me, forcing me into a cell with teargas. After ten minutes, I fainted. The police called me a dog. My left hand was chained to my left leg and my diet consisted only of bread and water.”
 
Slavery was officially abolished in Mauritania in 1981. It only became a criminal offence in August 2007 but no cases have since made it to court, despite NGOs regularly documenting slavery-like practices.
 
Notes to the Editor
The Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement in Mauritania is not recognised by the authorities despite its attempts to become officially registered.
Anti-slavery activists have frequently been targeted for their work on slavery in Mauritania.   In December 2010, eight people were arrested after exposing a case of two young girls allegedly forced to work as servants.
In January 2011, three of the activists were sentenced to a year in prison, including six months suspended.

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