Human rights activists demand release of detained slavery critics

Human rights campaign in front of the Mauritanian Embassy in Berlin

The defendants might be facing long prison sentences. Photo: STP

Prior to a trial against 13 detained slavery critics in Mauritania, a human rights action took place in front of the Mauritanian embassy in Berlin to demand the detainees to be released. Holding banners and portraits of slavery critics, members of the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) and Mauritanians who live in Germany demanded an end to the intimidation of human rights defenders in the North West African country. “Once again, it is the slavery critics who end up at court – not the slaveholders! Clearly, this is another attempt to silence them by any means,” criticized the STP’s Africa expert, Ulrich Delius. “The authorities have arrested the entire leadership of the IRA Mauritanie. This unusually harsh measure against the unwanted human rights activists suggests that the aim is to break up the entire organization.” The IRA is demanding the official ban on slavery in Mauritania to actually be enforced. Also, the organization helps to free slaves.

A total number of 17 local and international human rights organizations – including Amnesty International – have demanded an immediate release of the activists who were arrested last Monday. Instead of complying with this appeal, the authorities had 15 more members of the organization arrested. They had met at the Nouakchott airport to welcome the Deputy Chairman of the IRA Mauritanie, Brahim Ramdhane, who returned from the US. Ramdhane was allowed to enter the country, but the security forces warned him not to mention the arrests in public.

Now, the defendants might be facing long prison sentences. They are accused of having helped organize a partly violent demonstration against the eviction of a slum that was inhabited by former slaves. The defendants have denied these allegations and are accusing the authorities of trying to find some pretext to criminalize human rights activists.

This is not the first time that human rights activists of the IRA are facing an unfair trial. On May 17, 2016, the Supreme Court of Mauritania had put the country’s law enforcement agencies in their place by demanding the immediate release of the IRA’s president, Biram Dah Abeid, and his deputy, Brahim Ramdhane. They had been sentenced to two years in prison because of an anti-slavery demonstration, and had served 18 months of their sentence. While the IRA-Mauritanie was denied official recognition as a non-governmental organization in Mauritania, the organization has already been honored with several international awards for its commitment against slavery.

Header Photo: STP