Online campaign calls for release of Mauritanian anti-slavery activist

Online campaign calls for release of Mauritanian anti-slavery activist
A leading Arab human rights organisation is seeking to highlight the case of Biram Dah Abeid, an activist imprisoned for his relentless efforts to abolish slavery in Mauritania.
3 min read
15 October, 2015
Biram Dah Abeid's family was ripped apart by slavery [Getty]

A leading human rights organisation in the Middle East has chosen to draw attention to the plight of a Mauritanian anti-slavery activist, who was arrested last year during a protest against bondage in the west African nation.

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information [ANHRI] has decided to call attention to the case of Biram Dah Abeid this month as a part of its ongoing "Their Freedom is their Right" online campaign.

     My government wants to silence me, by demonising me, harassing me, and imprisoning me
- Biram Dah Abeid

Abeid, runner-up in the 2014 presidential elections and head of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement [IRA], was jailed in January alongside two other activists in the south-western city of Rosso.

A Mauritanian court sentenced the activist in January to two years in prison for "disturbing public security" and organising an "unlicensed demonstration".

In August, Abeid released an open letter from prison.

"My government wants to silence me, by demonising me, harassing me, and imprisoning me, and hopes I will abandon this cause by being silent or leaving the country," the activist wrote.

"Yet I refuse to give in to their blackmail," he added.

Abeid has devoted his life to fighting slavery – a promise he made to his father, who married a slave and whose family was ripped apart because of slavery.

Slavery is deeply entrenched in the vast, largely desert nation where light-skinned Berber Arab Moors enslaved local black Moors known as Haratin after settling in Mauritania centuries ago.

"Mauritania, has the worst slavery problem on earth – the Haratin represent 50 percent of the Mauritanian population. Babies are born to masters and forced to serve them their whole lives," Abeid said.

London-based human rights organisation Amnesty International has slammed the imprisonment of Abeid.

"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," said Gaetan Mootoo, Amnesty's West Africa Researcher.

Mauritania was the last in the world to abolish slavery, in 1981, and since 2007 its practice has been officially designated a crime.

However activists accused government of failing to implement the laws.

'Their freedom is their right'

ANHRI launched its social media campaign to in May this year.

"The campaign was launched to shed light on lesser known and forgotten prisoners of opinion. This is to support their right to freedom, protect them from torture and provide them with a fair trial," ANHRI executive director, Gamal Eid, told al-Araby's Arabic service.

"Each month we choose a new case of a prisoner of opinion or conscience and highlight their situation through social media by spreading their story and picture," the leading Egyptian human rights activist added.

The first case to be focused on was Mahmoud Mohamed Hussein, a 19-year-old Egyptian secondary school student who has been imprisoned since January, 2014, for wearing a t-shirt bearing the words: "A nation without torture".