Lawyers for 13 anti-slavery activists on trial in Mauritania said they have been tortured in detention. The activists, on trial for "rebellion and use of violence," were arrested last month after angry protests in a poor district of the capital Nouakchott slum community that faces forcible relocation as part of an urban clearance plan ahead of an Arab League summit to be hosted in the city. "One by one, the 13 spoke out against the forms of torture they had been subjected to in custody," said attorney Brahim Ould Ebetty, representing the members of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (ARI). The riots started when security forces stormed dwellings occupied for decades by members of the Haratin ethnic group, many of them former slaves. Authorities accused the ARI members of instigating the riots. The detained are now being held at an unknown location.
Amnesty International issued a protest of the arrests. "These activists are prisoners of conscience who have been falsely accused and are behind bars in order to impede their legitimate work. They have been targeted persistently for their views and must be released immediately and unconditionally," said Kiné Fatim Diop, Amnesty's West Africa campaigner. "The long-time persecution has no legal justification. The authorities must end their rule of fear and repression on anti-slavery activists."
A system of hereditary slavery still exist in Mauritania despite an official ban, with those belonging to "slave castes" forced to work as cattle herders and domestic servants without pay. Those who have escaped the system are often consigned to poverty. (North Africa Post, Aug. 17; Al Jazeera, Aug. 16; AI, Aug. 1)