September 5, 2012
Mauritanian anti-slavery leader and human rights defender Biram Dah Abeid and six fellow activists have been provisionally released from Nouakchott prison on Monday 3 September 2012 upon request of their lawyers, after being imprisoned for over 100 days without fair trial. This has been regarded as a first victory for him and the lawyers.
According to Brahim Bilal, vice-president of the Initiative pour la Résurgence du Mouvement Abolitionniste en Mauritanie (IRA Mauritania), thousands of people gathered in front of the prison to celebrate the provisional release of the group of activists, while Biram’s house is still crowded by IRA sympathizers who want to see him and speak with him.
Biram Dah Abeid, president of IRA, and his fellow activists were arrested on 29 April 2012 following their act of publicly burning several pages of a Malikite theological book, a text which asserts that slavery is a practice embraced by the Islamic faith. Since their arrest, peaceful anti-slavery marches have been cracked down and the group of non-violent anti-slavery activists have been denied the right to a fair trial. Furthermore, Biram Dah Abeid has been transferred to the hospital several times since his health condition deteriorated significantly.
Mauritania abolished slavery in 1981 - the last country in the world to do so. Only in 2007 it passed a law that officially criminalizes slave owners. So far, however, the Mauritanian court has prosecuted only one case. According to the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, Gulnara Shahinian, 10% to 20% of Mauritania’s 3.4 million people are enslaved (CNN Freedom Project). Especially the ethnic group of Black Moors, the Haratin, have been the victim of slavery over the past centuries, up until today. The case of non-violent human rights defender Biram Dah Abeid, who has been advocating for the abolition of the practice of slavery in Mauritania, only highlights the failure of the Mauritanian state to effectively implement the rule of law regarding slavery practices.
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