Thirteen anti-slavery activists have got partial reprieve as an Appeals Court in Mauritania has freed five of them and reduced the jail terms of the eight others.
The five who were freed were serving three-year jail terms each. They are Ousmane Anne, Jemal Samba, Mohamed Daty, Ahmed Mohamed Jaroullah and Ousmane Lo.
Those who had been serving 15-year jail terms had their sentences reduced to between three years and one year by the Appeal Court in Nouadhibou.
In August, 2016, the thirteen activists of the anti-slavery movement Initiative pour la Resurgence Abolitioniste (IRA) were sentenced to up to 15 years in prison after a protest in June by residents of a slum in the capital, Nouakchott.
The convicts had maintained that though their organisation openly opposed the eviction exercise, they did not participate in the anti-eviction protests for fear of being targeted. Nevertheless, the court found them guilty of “using violence, attacking security, gathering while armed and being a part of an unrecognized organisation.” The proceedings at the time were widely condemned as falling far short of the basic standards of fair trial.
The MFWA welcomes the judgment by the Court of Appeal as a step in the direction of fairness and respect for human rights and dignity. Even so, we call on the authorities to set free the remaining convicts.
We are also concerned that despite slavery being officially outlawed in 1981, and made a crime against humanity in 2007, more anti-slavery activists have been prosecuted in Mauritania than the proponents of the practice.
We therefore call on the authorities in Mauritania to stop the apparent crackdown on abolitionist groups and rather ensure the end to slavery in the country.