Police, Anti-Slavery Protesters Clashes Leave 4 Injured in Mauritania

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Published Friday, January 16, 2015

Clashes between police and protesters left four injured on Thursday in the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott, after security forces used tear gas to disperse anti-slavery demonstrators.

Clashes erupted after three anti-slavery activists were sentenced to two years in prison. Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid, the runner-up in 2014 presidential elections and the head of an anti-slavery group, was convicted along with one of his aides, Bilal Ramdane, and Djiby Sow, a civic and cultural rights campaigner.

Dozens of their supporters stormed the courthouse and surrounded the prosecutor's office while others smashed the windows of the police van carrying the three.

The activists were charged with "belonging to an illegal organization, leading an unauthorized rally, and violence against the police," their defense team said.

Mauritanian authorities have accused Ould Abeid's Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA) of spreading "racist propaganda," and have shut down IRA's headquarters in Nouakchott.

In November, after the arrest of anti-slavery campaigners, Amnesty International called on Mauritanian authorities to “stop the harassment, intimidation and repression of anti-slavery activists.”

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

Gaetan Mootoo, Amnesty's west Africa researcher, denounced the convictions, saying: "The intensifying crackdown on anti-slavery activists in Mauritania has no legal justification and is symptomatic of the government's lack of respect for human rights."

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 2013 Global Slavery Index.

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

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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