URGENT: Awards in WashDC and Mass Arrests in Nouakchott

URGENT Press Announcement

Washington DC July 1, 2016

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Biram Dah Abeid received the Hero Award from United States Secretary of State John Kerry on June 30th at the U.S. State Department in Washington D.C. Mr. Abeid is the President of IRA (the Initiative for the Resurgent Abolition Movement in Mauritania). He and the Vice-President of IRA, Brahim Bilal Ramdane served 19 months in jail for anti-slavery activity; they were released May 17 of this year. Mr. Ramdane was also honored with the Hero Award.

Massive arrests of IRA members and IRA leadership in Mauritania occurred the same day that Secretary Kerry shared the podium and shook hands with Mr. Abeid and Mr. Ramdane. [update on July 3: more arrests are reported, including that of Khetri (head of the IRA youth) and Hamady Lehbouss (lead communications person for IRA. The government intelligence officers are boldly denouncing IRA as instigators of a riot in the preceding week. IRA is dedicated to non-violent social change. IRA defends the impoverished Haratine and defends the legitimacy of their claim to property rights. The Haratine rioted when police tried to tear down their houses and remove them from a slum dwelling. IRA supports their claims to property rights but IRA does not support their acts of violence.]

Reports indicate 30 IRA members arrested, including the third Vice President of IRA, Amadou Tidjane Diop, the external affairs officer of IRA Balla Toure, Abdalahi Matala (president of Sebkha section), Moussa Biram (vice president of Sebkha section) and Jemal Bleyil (vice president of the Riadh section). Police broke down the door of Mr. Diop’s house. They searched and seized computers and other documents. Mr. Diop is being held in an undisclosed location.

The arrests in Mauritania coincide with the U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons (TIP) ceremony and TIP report publication. Mauritania is a Tier 3 country in the 2016 TIP Report. This is the lowest possible rank and subjects Mauritania to funding restrictions. The TIP Report states,“the government of Mauritania does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so.”

IRA is the largest anti-slavery organization in Mauritania, with members throughout the country who regularly mobilize to protest slavery and state endorsed discrimination based in race, caste and gender.

IRA and its President, Biram Dah Abeid, lead a non-violent struggle against slavery in Mauritania. The Hero Award received by Mr. Abeid and Mr. Ramdane adds to their list of recognitions. In early June 2016 IRA received the James Lawson prize for Non-Violent Conflict from Tufts University. The United Nations honored Mr. Abeid in 2013 with the U.N. Human Rights Prize. Mr. Abeid also won the Frontline Defenders prize in human rights.

We ask that human rights organizations protest these arrests of the IRA human rights defenders. We ask that journalists around the world publish this police attack on fundamental human rights including freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the right not to be enslaved or suffer state-sanctioned discrimination and dis-enfranchisement.

contact: bullard@ira-usa.org

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