EU MEP Q+A re arrest of anti- #slavery activist in #Mauritania

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Parliamentary questions

21 May 2012

Subject: VP/HR — Arrest of anti-slavery activist in Mauritania

On 28 April 2012, Biram Dah Abeid, the president of the Mauritanian anti-slavery movement Initiative de Résurgence du Mouvement Abolitionniste de Mauritanie (IRA), was arrested in Nouakchott, along with other members, after he burned several pages of a Malikite theological book, a text which asserts that slavery is a practice encompassed by the Islamic faith.

In Mauritania, it is not a criminal offence to burn books. The authorities were therefore not able to obtain an official arrest warrant; nonetheless, twelve detainees, including a disabled person, were denied their right to legal counsel, and on 3 May 2012 were transported to an unknown location by the Mauritanian Secret Service (DSE). According to the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO), Mr Abeid was also taken to an unknown location.

In 2007, anti-slavery legislation was introduced, prohibiting any form of slavery in Mauritania. However, the IRA remains the only civil society organisation that is not allowed to operate by the Mauritanian authorities.

1. Is the Vice-President/High Representative aware of the case of Mr Biram Dah Abeid, and is she prepared to call for his immediate release along with the other members of the anti‑slavery movement IRA who have been unjustly detained by the Mauritanian authorities?

2. What steps has the EU taken with the Mauritanian Government to raise the issue of slavery? Can the VP/HR offer some examples?

3. According to the EEAS, how serious is the problem of slavery in Mauritania and the rest of the Sahel region?

Question for written answer to the Commission (Vice-President/High Representative)

Fiorello Provera (EFD)

via Written question – VP/HR – Arrest of anti-slavery activist in Mauritania – E-005136/2012.

29 June 2012

Joint answer given by High Representative/Vice-President Ashton on behalf of the Commission

The HR/VP is aware of the arrest and detention of Mr Biram Dah Ould Abeid and of several sympathisers of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA) in Mauritania. The EEAS in Brussels and the EU Delegation in Mauritania are closely following this case.

The Head of the EU Delegation to Mauritania met, together with the Ambassadors of the Member States, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and expressed deep concern at the events, the treatment of Mr Biram Dah Ould Abeid and his colleagues. They also recalled the responsibility of Mauritania’s authorities to protect the physical and psychological inviolability of Mr Biram Dah Ould Abeid and the other detainees as well as to ensure a fair, transparent and impartial judicial procedure. The Delegation is in regular contact with NGOs and human right defenders on the ground and receives regular updates on the situation. The burning of writings of Islamic scholars is not a means of democratic expression and ultimately is not the best means of promoting an enlightened attitude in current circumstances in Mauritania. [my emphasis]

via Answer to a written question – Arbitrary arrest of Biram Dah Abeid, President of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement, and other human rights activists in Mauritania – E-004592/2012.

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#Mauritania protests against slavery and military rule

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Anti-slavery protesters demand release of jailed comrades 8 July 2012

Protesters gathered in the Mauritanian capital on Sunday demanding the release of seven activists who have been detained since April, and end to the country’s practice of slavery, news organisations and activists reported.

Human rights and civil society activists who had gathered for a march in the capital Nouakchott demanded justice and freedom for the activists arrested in April – they also called for the abolition of slavery in their country- and an end to what they described as ‘arbitrary imprisonment.’

The seven activists detained included human rights advocate and head of the Initiative for the Resurgence of Abolitionist Movement (IRA), Biram Ould Abeid. According to the Irish-based human rights organisation, Front Line Defenders, Abeid and nine other activists were arrested on 29 April after reportedly burning books condoning the practice of slavery a day earlier. Saidou Wane, an activist with The Movement for Justice and Equality in Mauritania (MJEM), a human rights organisation in Mauritania, told the Daily News Egypt that “the Arab Spring inspired a lot of activists in Mauritania and showed us everything is possible.”

The protests have been largely peaceful and have demanded reforms including an end to slavery which is still practised in the country. They also called for an end to government corruption. But peaceful protesters were met with violent crackdowns by security, Wane said.

Some news agencies reported the books to be Islamic texts. The United States-sponsored Magharabeia news site reported the books were Sunni Maliki books. Almost all Mauritanians follow the Sunni Maliki religious school of Islamic thought. MJEM said the books burned were Islamic books but not copies of the Holy Quran. Mauritania has been ruled by Islamic Shari’a law for decades, which bans the practice of burning religious texts.

The arrested remained in an unknown location for several weeks until they were sent to a prison on 29 May. Three of the activists were later released on the same day, Front Line Defenders reported. The organisation condemned the arrests and reiterated “its call on the Mauritanian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release and drop all charges against him and the other IRA members.”

February 25 Movement protest against military rule 10 July 2012

In late June, the activists were tried for threatening the country’s security. The court dismissed the case for “incompetence and procedural nullity,” according to MJEM. Despite the ruling, the activists remained in custody.

The population of Mauritania is approximately 3.5 million, 10 percent to 20 percent of which are believed to be living some form of slavery, according to news agency CNN. The number of slaves could therefore be as high as 680,000.

While the Mauritanian parliament passed a bill in 2007 making slavery illegal, news reports note that only one person has ever been successfully prosecuted. The struggle to end slavery in Mauritania started in the 1980s, and the most recent campaigns have been sparked by the series of uprisings that shook the Arab World. Mauritania witnessed massive protests on 25 February 2011 when demonstrators took to the streets demanding reforms. A core group of civil society activists later formed the apolitical February 25 Movement, and have continued the  protests calling for an end to military rule in Mauritania. Their most recent protest on 10 July was disrupted less than an hour after it started and 15 arrests were made.

Based on a report in the Daily News Egypt.

#Mauritania News and Updates 8 May 2012

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Following on from an eventful Monday on May 7, with no less than 5 separate protests in Mauritania, I will be attempting to track events today by updating this post.

09:22

Police raided Nouakchott Uni Arts faculty this morning 8 May 2012, where students were using the student’s union office to stage a lock-in to protest the increased militarisation of the campus. Officers attacked the students with batons and 16 arrests were made, including 6 female students. More than a dozen students are facing expulsion following recent protests. There were accusations following the arrests that the dean of the Arts faculty had enlisted the security services to intercept and monitor student phone calls. Detainees include Mohamed Lamine Dabo, student union organiser.


09:35

Heavy security presence observed around the Ministry of Justice, where the political opposition’s youth group has called for a protest against the attack on last Thursday’s sit-in. No news so far of the protest going ahead. Meanwhile some of the tents and other equipment confiscated by police last week has “gone missing”. Organisers were told to make a complaint to the chief prosecutor if they wished to reclaim items used “in connection with civil offences”.


14:00

Protesters from Kamour, who blocked the road and demonstrated outside the presidential palace yesterday remained in situ overnight and are continuing their protest today. Kamour, in the Gorgol region, suffered devastating damage to local oases and wells after severe floods in 2010. In January of this year the sole water pump failed, and residents have been relying on water brought by tanker (at significant additional cost) while waiting for the state to arrange repairs.


16:00

Activist Ahmed Ould Eddyd, admin of the popular “Yezza” FaceBook group and houriyeti website has added a UStream channel. Very exciting times to see Mauritanian activists expanding their use of social media. Ahmed has recently arranged Q&A sessions with representatives of various civil society groups such as the February 25 Movement in Mauritania. I am hoping this new U-Stream channel will suport that initiative so that more people can observe and participate.


17:00

Hundreds of youth in Adrar formed a protest today outside the regional administration building against the marginalisation of young people and raising concerns about various grievances such as rising prices, education and employment as well as the lack of civic amenities and social facilities in general.


18:30

Dozens of secondary school teachers continued the protest actions which began last week with a stand outside the presidential palace in Nouakchott today. The teachers are exasperated by the refusal of state officials at the ministry of education refusing to accept their petitions or to open a meaningful dialogue to address their concerns.


18:45

More evidence of the regime’s fading popularity. A festival in support of Aziz’ party last Saturday in Mederdra, an isolated community whose youth organised a 50km march to demand a paved road, attracted a tiny gathering of only the officials and state employees whose attendance is mandatory. Pictures released today are all quite narrowly focused to give the appearance of a crowded arena, but this one shows almost the entire crowd. Officials are trying to brush the poor attendance off by claiming it is linked to lower population density. Officials have also encouraged the creation of a rival youth activist group, seeking to undermine the activities and reputation of the original group. It’s all rather unpleasant.


19:30

As the controversy over the burning of books of Islamic jurisprudence continues, a number of imams and religious scholars have called on Mauritanian sources of jurisprudence and emulation to issue a fatwa about slavery. IRA campaign leader Bira Ould Abeid remains in detention.


19:37

Residents of Nema are experiencing a severe shortage of electrical power. The blackout began two days ago and is causing serious problems for the town’s inhabitants.



19:52

An outbreak of deadly viral meningitis has been confirmed by health officials in Mauritania after the death of at least 10 people and hospitalisation of several more.


23:00

Alakhbar News Agency has posted this video of a massive Nouakchott protest in support of jailed anti-slavery campaigned Biram ould Abeid.

23:59

The wife of Biram ould Abeid has been arrested by police at her home this evening. Reasons are unclear, but it is assumed the arrest is linked to the massive protest today.

4 activists held for trying to free slaves in #Mauritania

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Journalist, photographer, University professor, and a businessman detained. 4 Anti-Slavery activists arrested in Mauritania

Four members of the IRA (Initiative for the resurgence of the Anti-Slavery Movement in Mauritania) are currently being detained in the city of Aioun by the Mauritanian authorities for demanding that three young slave siblings be freed from their masters. The IRA was alerted by 16 year-old Taleb Jidou, a runaway slave whose three younger siblings – two boys and a girl age 14, 12 and 10 – are held in bondage by the Ehl Khanvour family of the Hodh El Gharbi region

The IRA released this weekend the photos of Lehbous O. Oumar (Businessman), Ely o. Rava (Professor at the University of Nouakchott), El Mehdi O. Lemrabott (Journalist) and Abdallahi A. Diop (Photographer) who are being subjected to inhuman treatments according to the anti-slavery group.

Mistreatment of prisoners in Mauritania

The police are accused of abusing the detained activists

In its latest press release, the IRA seeks to:

“Alert the national and international public opinion on this inhuman method of detention that can lead to death or degradation of the health of the prisoners;

Stand up once again against the strategy of the Mauritanian Government that imprisons plaintiffs instead of punishing those who are guilty of the practice of slavery;

Makes a plea to national and international organizations, human rights defenders and local political parties to press the Government of general Aziz to release these four activists and  apply the 0048 /2007 law pertaining to the criminalization of slavery in this proven case and many others pending in the Justice Department.”

Mauritania: 4 anti-slavery activists arrested for demanding emancipation of 3 slaves  (MJEM)