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Mauritania: Court Sentences Anti-Slavery Activist, Acquits Others

(Sept. 1, 2011) On August 22, 2011, eight individuals accused of “unauthorized gathering and rebellion” were acquitted by a court in Mauritania, while the remaining defendant, Belkheir Ould Cheikh, was sentenced to three months of imprisonment. All nine were members of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement in Mauritania (IRA), an anti-slavery organization, and had held a sit-in to protest child enslavement. (Mauritanian Anti-Slavery Activist Jailed, Eight Acquitted, AFP (Aug. 22, 2011).)

The prosecution had wanted all the defendants imprisoned, asking for terms of two years for eight of them and three for Cheikh. The President of the IRA called the outcome a “defeat for the slavery system and acknowledgement of the legitimacy of the IRA's battle.” (Id.) A source from the court stated that Cheikh had been convicted of assaulting a police officer. (Id.)

Although slavery was outlawed in Mauritania in 1981 (Ordonnance no. 81-234 du 9 novembre 1981 portant abolition de l'esclavage, JOURNAL OFFICIEL 496 (Nov. 25, 1981)) and was made punishable with up to ten years of imprisonment in 2007 (Loi du 3 septembre 2007 portant incrimination de l'esclavage et des pratiques esclavagistes, JOURNAL OFFICIEL 1262-1264 (Oct. 30, 2007)), the practice has continued. (For background on the situation in Mauritania, see Pascale Harter, Slavery: Mauritania's Best Kept Secret, BBC NEWS (Dec. 13, 2004) & Slavery in Mauritania, ANTI-SLAVERY [website of the advocacy group Anti-Slavery International] (last visited Aug. 29, 2011).)