Mauritania Sentences Anti-Slavery Activists to Two Years in Prison

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Al-Akhbar Management

Published Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Mauritanian court on Thursday sentenced three anti-slavery activists to two-year jail terms each for "unauthorized assembly" and "incitement," judicial sources said.

The court in the southern town of Rosso jailed Brahim Bilal, Djiby Sow and Biram Dah Abeid. Abeid, a lawyer and former presidential candidate, is sometimes called the Mauritanian Nelson Mandela.

The three social activists were arrested in November during an anti-slavery rally, which was followed by clashes between activists and security forces.

The jailed activists were convicted of being members of an "unrecognized organization" and of taking part in an unauthorized assembly. Seven others charged in the same case were acquitted.

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 North African 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.

President Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz denies slavery exists in his country, saying that only the consequences of this former practice exist.

Researchers such as Hussein Ould Mohammed believe that slavery in Mauritania began in ancient times with tribes overpowering other tribes and taking their members as slaves.

According to observers familiar with the history of slavery, French colonial rulers combated slavery, albeit only in name. When the country gained its independence from France in 1960, the Mauritanian government started cracking down on the practice.

Two decades later, the country’s military rulers issued a law banning slavery. This helped free many slaves, but the lack of proper law enforcement meant that the practice could not be fully eliminated.

(Anadolu, Al-Akhbar)

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