Field report: Free Mauritania’s anti-slavery activists


To advocate for Mauritanian anti-slavery activists Biram Dah Abeid and Brahim Ould Bilal to be released from prison.


Abeid and Bilal, the respective President and Vice President of Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement in Mauritania (IRA-Mauritania) were imprisoned in 2015 and held for 18 months on false charges for their anti-slavery work.

Abeid was arrested on politically-motivated charges for a second time at his home in the early hours of August 9, 2018. Abeid planned to run for the national assembly, and it is curious that his arrest occurred the same day as the deadline for candidates to register for parliamentary elections.

Over the two periods of imprisonment, we rallied Freedom United supporters to:

  • send 233,544 messages to the Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and Justice Minister Dia Moctar Malal
  • support our coalition letter to the Minister of Justice, Dia Moctar Malal, urging him to listen to our concerns and to give Abeid a fair trial
  • send 1,295 messages to the Mauritania Commissioner for Human Rights
  • back our partner’s statement urging the UN Secretary-General to press for Abeid’s release
  • make 694 calls to Mauritanian Embassies
  • direct 13,212 messages to members of European Parliament
  • raise US$4,800 for an independent trial observer
  • send 4,768 messages to Biram in prison.


Abeid and Bilal were freed from captivity in May 2016 after 18 months behind bars on their second appeal.  Unfortunately, less than a month later, while Abeid was in the U.S. receiving the U.S. TIP Report Hero Award for their work, thirteen other Mauritanian anti-slavery activists were imprisoned.

Eleven of the activists were released, but Freedom United launched a campaign to secure the release of the last two, Moussa Biram and Abdellahi Matalla Saleck. The pair were finally freed on July 12, 2018.

In his 2018 re-arrest, Abeid spent five months in detention — during which he was elected to the national assembly — but was finally released on December 31, 2018.  He is now campaigning in a bid for president, with his party, IRA-Mauritania, pushing for anti-slavery reforms.


In 1981, Mauritania became the last country in the world to abolish slavery; yet, according to the Global Slavery Index, it has the highest proportion of enslaved people in the world.