Mauritania has handed out prison sentences to thirteen anti-slavery activists, AFP reports. The activists were sentenced to 3-15 years in prison.
The report says that on Thursday August 18, a court in the capital Nouakchott found the activists guilty of the “use of violence”. They had been accused of rebellion, use of violence, attack against public authority, armed assembly, and membership of an unrecognised organisation, which in Mauritanian law carries a potential fine and a jail term of up to two years.
Human rights group Amnesty International has condemned the sentencing, however, saying that all 13 activists had been falsely accused because of their advocacy work. The activists were arrested between June 30 and July 9 after the authorities attempted to forcibly relocate some slum dwellers in Nouakchott as the city prepared to host an Arab League summit. Authorities say about ten police officers were injured during the protests.
According to AFP, the affected slum was home to many so-called Haratina — a “slave caste” in Mauritania under a hereditary system of servitude whose members are forced to work without pay as cattle herders and domestic servants, despite an official ban.
A lawyer representing the 13 activists told the court earlier on Monday that his clients had been tortured during their detention. Brahim Ould Ebetty of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement said: “One by one, the 13 spoke out against the forms of torture they had been subjected to in custody.” Ebetty added that the activists have requested that “proceedings be brought against the torturers they have mentioned by name.”
The Middle East Eye reports that Biram Dah Abeid, a prominent Mauritanian former slave and anti-slavery campaigner who has run for the country’s presidency, on Thursday denounced what he called the “shocking, blameworthy and complicit” silence of the African Union over the issue of slavery in the country.
Mauritania is one of the world’s last remaining strongholds of institutionalised slavery. The Haratina are descendants of black slaves who were owned by the Arab Berbers in a form of chattel slavery. Mauritanian law officially outlawed slavery in 1981 but many of the Haratina still live in conditions akin to bondage with little education and no right to property.