Activists report: "Repression is getting worse and worse" in Mauritania


A February 2018 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report based on research in 2017 contains worrying findings and shows how the Mauritanian government has cracked down on organisations that strive to address pressing "issues of ethnic and caste discrimination, slavery and its legacy, and grave abuses of the past that targeted particular ethnic groups". Authorities have claimed there is no repression of NGO activities; however, HRW documented cases that reveal otherwise. The report also details the repercussions of the country's 1964 Law on Associations, which gives the Ministry of Interior control over the authorisation and legalisation of associations and organisations. A 2016 draft law that could replace the 1964 law would reportedly not improve the situation for civil society organisations in Mauritania.

Groups combating slavery and human trafficking in Mauritania face persecution, as Boubacar Messaoud, president of one of Mauritania's oldest anti-slavery groups SOS Esclaves told Thomson Reuters:

"The repression is getting worse and worse".

The repression includes denial by the state of authorisation for groups' events and activities to take place. According to activists on the ground, such refusals from the authorities occur frequently, hindering NGOs' abilities to conduct outreach, awareness-raising, training, and to provide services to victims. Though slavery was officially abolished in Mauritania in 1981, the problem persists and activists speaking out against this human rights violation face persecution and judicial harassment. 

At the time of writing, two anti-slavery activists with IRA-Mauritania, Moussa Bilal Biram and Abdellahi Matalla Saleck, remain in detention, imprisoned for over a year in a remote location in the Sahara desert. Other members of IRA-Mauritania were also arrested and imprisoned, along with the Biram and Saleck, for allegedly participating in a 2016 protest, though none of the members were reported to have been at that event. The authorities have nonetheless pressed charges of "incitement of a non-armed assembly with the goal of threatening public order". Human rights groups, such as Amnesty International and Front Line Defenders, have called for the activists' immediate release. 


On 27th April 2018, Mauritania's National Assembly passed a law on “blasphemous speech” and “sacrilegious acts”, which could broaden the scope of cases in which the death penalty could be applied. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the new law appears to be connected to the case of Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaïtir, a blogger who remains incommunicado detention for "apostasy" because he spoke out online "denouncing the use of religion to legitimize discriminatory practices against the blacksmith caste in Mauritania with which he identifies". There are serious and genuine concerns that the recently-passed law could be applied to the blogger's case, as he remains imprisoned despite fulfilling his initial sentence. Along with HRW, other international organisations have called for the law to be repealed, and ultimately, the death penalty to be abolished.