Mauritanian anti-slavery leader jailed over November protest

by Reuters
Thursday, 15 January 2015 17:02 GMT

A man drives in front of a poster for incumbent presidential candidate Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz in Nouakchott June 20, 2014. Mauritania will hold presidential elections on Saturday. REUTERS/Joe Penney

Image Caption and Rights Information
Activist's lawyer calls court's decision "a step back in time to the 1980s where people were arrested and judged on false charges"

* Three anti-slavery activists jailed for two years

* One was runner-up in 2014 presidential election

* Police use teargas to clear crowd outside court

NOUAKCHOTT, Jan 15 (Reuters) - The losing candidate in Mauritania's presidential election was jailed for two years on Thursday along with two other people who had organised a march against slavery, their defence lawyer said.

Police used teargas to disperse hundreds of protesters who had gathered outside the courtroom, in the southern town of Rosso, local sources said.

Biram Ould Abeid, a prominent anti-slavery activist who came second in last year's election, was arrested during a march in November. His arrest was criticised by human rights campaigners and the European Parliament.

A government spokesman was not immediately available for comment. Defence lawyer Brahim Ould Ebety said the convictions were for disturbing public order and belonging to an unrecognised organisation.

He called the court's decision "a step back in time to the 1980s where people were arrested and judged on false charges," adding that he had submitted an appeal.

A researcher for Amnesty International in West Africa, Gaetan Mootoo, said: "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."

He called for the immediate release of Ould Abeid and the other two men, Brahim Bilal and Djiby Sow. Seven other activists were released by the court.

Mauritania was the last country to formally abolish slavery, in 1981. It still has the highest prevalence worldwide of slavery per head of population, according to the Global Slavery Index.

President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz denies there is slavery in his country, saying that only the consequences of this former practice exist.

(Reporting by Kissima Diagana; Writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.