Seven anti-slavery activists in Mauritania were formally charged this week with threatening state security after they burned religious books last month. Thousands of people then marched to protest the burning of the religious texts, which activists said promoted slavery.
Despite the public outcry that occurred after the book burnings, Amnesty International West Africa Researcher Gaeton Mootoo said the activists should be released. “These human rights defenders have the right to express their opinion,” he said.
Mootoo added that the leader of one local anti-slavery group, Biram Ould Obeidi, who was arrested and charged with the others, has been an outspoken critic of human rights in Mauritania. “This group was kind of very active in denouncing acts of slavery and also denouncing the impunity enjoyed by slave masters.”
Though slavery is outlawed in Mauritania, it has only been punishable by six years in prison since 2007, and Mootoo said just last year Amnesty recorded five cases in the country.