Mauritania court upholds conviction against anti-slavery activists

slavery in mauritania

A Mauritanian court on Thursday upheld a two-year prison sentence against three anti-slavery activists who were arrested during a protest against bondage in the west African nation.

Biram Ould Dah Ould 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 an open letter published after the ruling he vowed to continue his fight against slavery and appealed for the United States and European Union to put pressure on Mauritania to act against the practice, including stopping financial aid.

“From my dark cell I urge them to mobilise all legal and diplomatic means, including the suspension of all financial aid, to push the government to take real action to eradicate slavery as well as the racism and exclusion underlying it,” he wrote.

The three activists were arrested in November 2014 while protesting slavery and were found guilty of “belonging to an illegal organisation, leading an unauthorised rally, and violence against the police.”

The two others convicted were Bilal Ramdane, an assistant to Ould Abeid, and Djiby Sow, a civic and cultural rights campaigner.

Sow has since been released on parole due to health problems.

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.

Slave status is also often passed on from generation to generation, said the Australia-based Walk Free Movement which estimated in its 2014 Global Slavery Index that there were 156,000 slaves in Mauritania, or some four percent of the population.

There are no figures available from the Mauritanian authorities. President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz said earlier this year that slavery no longer exists in the country, only what he calls “the last vestiges” of an old practice.

The country 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.