28 July 2016

Mauritania: New Wave of Reprisals Against Ira Anti-Slavery Activists

Photo: Contributor/IRIN
Former slave, Mattallah Ould M'Boirk, along with his family in Nouakchott (file photo).
press release

Between 30 June and 9 July 2016, members of the Mauritanian NGO "Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA)", were subjected to a new wave of reprisals with 13 of its members arrested: Tidjane Amadou Diop Balla Touré, Hamady Lehbouss Ahmed Amarvall, Khattry M'Bareck Mohamed Daty, Jemal Beylil, Anne Ousmane Ousmane Lô, Abdallahi Matallah Seck, Biram Moussa, Mohamed Abdallahi Abou Diop and Mohamed Jaroullah. On 21 July 2016, Alkarama sent an urgent appeal to the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders (SR HRD) Michel Forst to solicit his urgent intervention with the Mauritanian authorities to ensure the immediate release of the aforementioned activists and drop all charges against them.

These arrests followed the 29 June 2016 events, during which clashes broke out between security forces and individuals who came in support of Haratine populations who were expelled from the "Gazra Bouamoutou" shantytown in Nouakchott. The following day, IRA activists were arrested for "planning and participating in the violence" according to the authorities, even though none of them took part in the demonstration. Following their arrests, the activists' families faced the authorities' systematic refusal to disclose or provide any information about the fate and whereabouts of their relatives. The detainees have been held incommunicado for ten days and transferred repeatedly, blindfolded, from a detention centre to another without being told where they were being detained.

The 13 activists did not reappear until their presentation before the Public Prosecutor of Nouakchott the night of 11 to 12 July 2016. Their lawyers have reported that traces of violence and torture were visible on some of the activists' bodies, while others reported having been subjected to acts of physical torture and humiliation by police officers while they were held incommunicado. Those acts of torture were intended to force them to confess to their participation in the events of 29 June 2016. Despite several lawyer's requests to that end, the Prosecutor refused to order a medical expertise or an investigation on the torture allegations raised by the activists. In addition, members of the National Mechanism for Prevention of Torture (NPM) asked to conduct visits to the detention centres where the activists were held; but the prosecutor again denied these requests.

"Despite the enactment of the 2007 law criminalising slavery in Mauritania, the practice continues and anti-slavery activists regularly face reprisals from the authorities," said Radidja Nemar, Regional Legal Officer for North Africa at Alkarama. "It is concerning that the authorities are systematically denying the lawyers' legitimate requests: a medical expertise as well as an investigation shall be ordered at the earliest, pursuant to the Convention against Torture (CAT) to which Mauritania is a party since 2004."

The activists are currently arbitrarily detained in inhumane conditions at the Dar Naim prison, pending trial which is to be held on 3 August 2016. They will be prosecuted for heading an "armed crowd", committing "violence against law enforcement officers", "rebellion" and "belonging to an unregistered organisation". IRA-Mauritania was consistently denied accreditation as an association by the Mauritanian authorities, without any valid justification.

Therefore, Alkarama calls on the Mauritanian authorities to immediately release the IRA activists, drop all charges against them, and put an end to all acts of persecution against human rights defenders who call for a better respect of civil and political rights and liberties as well as ensure that such violations do not reoccur in the future.

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