The press conference organised for leading anti-slavery campaigner Biram Dah Abeid by Access Partnership’s Abdou Lo has been cancelled for a second time after pressure from the Senegalese and Mauritanian governments. The press conference, organised on 4 October at the Hotel Café de Rome and involving anti-slavery and anti-racist activists from Senegal and Mauritania, was the second attempt at holding a press conference on human rights in Mauritania after an earlier attempt on 30 September was quietly pressured into cancellation by the Senegalese authorities.
Tensions first rose after a group of US civil rights activists – a group organised by Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition – were held at Nouakchott airport and denied entry into Mauritania due to what a government spokesperson called their plans to “act against the laws in force in Mauritania” at the beginning of September. Later attempts to hold press conferences on slavery were viewed as provocation by the Mauritanian government, and the anti-slavery activists claim that the Senegalese authorities, concerned about the risk of diplomatic disputes with Mauritania, contacted the Hotel Café de Rome to inform them that a press conference on the topic would be unwelcome, resulting in them losing the venue. A full account of the activists’ claims is available in Jeune Afrique’s report (French) and a shorter report is up on the North Africa Post (English). Despite banning slavery in 1981 and allowing prosecutions in 2007, slavery remains rife in Mauritania and NGO attempts to combat the practice have been met with hostility from the government.
Attendees of the conference included lawyer Ahmed Ely of the Nouakchott Bar, who is part of the defence team for the imprisoned Senator Ghadda; the French lawyer William Bourdon, president of the NGO Sherpa, which has just published a report on corruption in Mauritania; his Belgian colleague, Georges Henri Beauthier, former President of the Belgian League for Human Rights; Me Assane Dioma Ndiaye, President of the Senegalese League of Human Rights (LSDH); Alioune Tine, Director of Amnesty International for West and Central Africa (Waro); Seydi Gassama, Executive Director of Amnesty Senegal; and Sadikh Niass, Acting Secretary General of the African Meeting for the Defense of Human Rights (Raddho).