Jailed Anti-Slavery Activists Announce Hunger Strike in Mauritania

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Al-Akhbar Management

Published Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Three jailed Mauritanian anti-slavery activists on Monday went on hunger strike to protest their treatment by prison authorities, their campaign group said in a statement.

Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid, the runner-up in 2014 presidential elections, is serving two years in the central Aleg prison, along with aide Bilal Ramdane and Djiby Sow, a civic and cultural rights campaigner.

Ould Abeid's Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA) objected to the way the trio were being treated, denouncing the "abuse against them since their arrival at the Aleg and the squalid conditions... which are not in accordance with their status as senior human rights activists."

The IRA vowed "to initiate and organize a series of demonstrations and intensify the peaceful activities of the anti-slavery struggle" in solidarity with the hunger strikers.

The men were jailed for two years on January 15 for "belonging to an illegal organization, leading an unauthorized rally, and violence against the police."

Seven others who took part in anti-slavery protests in November were acquitted.

Meanwhile, three other activists from the same group, who went on trial on February 5, will know their fate on Thursday, a judicial source said.

Mauritanian prosecutor requested they each be handed three-year jail terms and fines of nearly $1,500 dollars.

Amnesty International said the activists were arrested while trying to educate people about land rights in the West African country, where descendents of slaves are often forced to give up a portion of their crops to traditional masters.

Mauritanian authorities have accused the IRA of spreading "racist propaganda," and police have shut down its headquarters in the capital Nouakchott.

Mauritania became the last country worldwide to legally abolish slavery in 1981 and still has the highest prevalence worldwide of slavery per capita, according to the Global Slavery Index 2013.

The number of slaves in the country has been estimated at 600,000 by the "SOS Slavery" Mauritanian organization, while the Global Slavery Index puts the number at about 140,000.

Campaigners say the government has failed in the past to acknowledge the extent of the activity. Forced labor is a particularly sensitive issue in Mauritania, where anti-slavery charities are very active.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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