Brahim Ebety: arbitrary omprisonment of anti-slavery activists

Brahim Ebety

Brahim Ebety is a well-known Mauritanian Lawyer and an old friend of AEDH. He is one of the group of lawyers who are defending Biram Dah Abeid, Brahim Ould Bilal and Djiby Sow, all activists fighting the practice of slavery in Mauritania, and recently sentenced to two years in prison. Biram and Brahim are the President and Vice President respectively of the Mauritanian movement IRA (Initiative for the Reinforcement of the Abolition). AEDH worked alongside a number of Mauritanian and international organisations to protest their wrongful imprisonment and has supported those in prison through its emergency fund for human rights defenders. Brahim Ebety reveals the truth about this affair.

AEDH: Can you tell us about the circumstances in which the three men were arrested and condemned?

Brahim Ebety (BE): They were arrested at the end of a demonstration organised by IRA to protest about all the forms of slavery that exist in the Senegal River valley (the
border between Mauritania and Senegal) . They were particularly concerned about the rights concerning property ownership. During the demonstration there had been no violence and the demonstration had evoked an enthusiastic response.

When the demonstration, consisting of about sixty individuals and a few cars reached Rosso it was surrounded by the police who forcefully removed members of the demonstration, including Biram. Ten or so people were presented before the state prosecutor and accused of illegal assembly, rebellion, resistance the forces of order, the use of violence, and misdemeanours by an unauthorised organisation.

After a trial lasting fifteen days , the court released all those retained except Biram, Brahim and Djiby who received a two year prison sentence for rebellion and for a threat to public order, even though there were no moral or material elements that could be laid at the door of the accused. One can only conclude that sentence had been ordered by the government.

The condemned men were then transferred to the prison of Aleg, secretly and totally illegally during the night of the 15th January 2015 even before the sentence had been pronounced. In April 2015 the prosecutor of the Supreme Court requested that the regular judge be taken off the case in favour of the appeal court at Aleg that had just been set up apparently just for this case.

The three men asked their lawyers not to plead before the appeal court at Aleg. On 20 August 2015 the Aleg appeal court confirmed the judgement of the original court in the absence of both the accused and of their lawyers. On 2nd September the defence asked for the decision to be annulled, and there were plenty of reasons to ask for an annulment: the procedure was run through with violations of the law both in its content and in its form.

AEDH: How did the group of defence lawyers take things forward?

BE: As has always been the case in the noble tradition of our bar association, an impressive group of lawyers got together and took the case on since it concerned questions of opinion and an open abuse of fundamental freedoms. AEDH is a friend of our bar association and has never failed in its support during the many difficult journeys that it has had to undertake. You can well imagine the quality and the amount of involvement in the way this file was handled.

AEDH: To what extent do you feel that these sentences reflect the true state of affairs with regard to human rights in Mauritania?

BE: Unfortunately we have to accept the fact that the powers be maintain an ambiguous position, claiming on the one hand that they are for the eradication of slavery, whilst on the other they bring to bear their whole repressive apparatus to persecute, arrest, detain and condemn the anti-slavery activists. This schizophrenic attitude is especially dangerous and clearly hides various pernicious forms of human rights abuses.

AEDH: Do you think that international pressure can affect the situation of the three prisoners?

BE: I think all pressure, whether national or international, to denounce this ambiguous policy is worthwhile and is bound to have a positive impact on the prisoners’ situation. The cause that they are defending is the cause of all Mauritanians and all friends of Mauritania. In this way the eradication of slavery will not be just a slogan but a long term and continuous activity to rid Mauritania of this terrible scourge.

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