19 October 2016 – A group of United Nations human rights experts including Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Mendez expressed serious concern that Mauritanian activists jailed for their alleged role in a protest against forced evictions in Nouakchott are being targeted by the Government for their anti-slavery advocacy.
The human rights defenders were sentenced in August to prison terms ranging from three to fifteen years. The date for an appeal will be set later this week by the Appeals Court in Nouadhibou.
Thirteen of the activists are members of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA), the leading Mauritanian civil society organization fighting against slavery. They denied any role in the eviction protests, during which several people, including police officers, were injured.
“There seems to be no legal basis or justification for the transfer of the detainees,” they underlined. “This is yet another indication that these legal proceedings are politically motivated and intended to suffocate groups and individuals that promote human rights and oppose Government policies.”
“We urge the authorities to ensure that the activists be transferred back to Nouakchott and afforded a fair hearing by a competent, independent and impartial court in accordance with international human rights law,” the experts stated.
They also expressed concern about the serious health condition of some detainees, reminding Mauritania’s obligation to protect detainees’ right to health and provide them with the urgent and adequate medical care needed regardless of their legal status.
“It is vital to ensure that human rights defenders can exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms free from intimidation or fear of reprisals. Anti-slavery activism cannot be a crime,” the experts stressed. “The Government of Mauritania needs to revisit its criminal law in order to comply with its international obligation to respect and protect the right to freedom of opinion and expression.”
The UN independent experts have been in contact with the Mauritanian government to clarify this situation.