The Nelson Mandela of Mauritania is dying in prison

by Gilberto Mastromatteo, il manifesto, Oct. 26 2015

Biram Dah Abeid

Biram Dah Abeid, dub­bed as the Nel­son Man­dela of Mau­ri­ta­nia, may die in pri­son. The lea­der of the Ini­tia­tive for the Resur­gence of the Abo­li­tio­nist Move­ment (IRA) has been loc­ked up for nearly a year in Aleg pri­son, the noto­rious Guan­ta­namo of West Africa, and his health is dete­rio­ra­ting rapidly.

“Biram Abeid has dia­be­tes, a her­nia­ted disc and hyper­ten­sion,” accor­ding to the Obser­va­tory for the Pro­tec­tion of Human Rights Defen­ders. “He com­plains of severe abdo­mi­nal pain, diz­zi­ness, dif­fi­culty moving and serious sleep disorders.”

Abeid has long been a thorn for the govern­ment of Mau­ri­ta­nia, where de facto sla­very of a dark-skinned mino­rity continues.

In 2012, Abeid fini­shed a jail sen­tence for publi­cly set­ting fire to pages of the Koran that have been used to indoc­tri­nate sla­ves to be proud of their con­di­tion. Today he is ser­ving a two-year sen­tence for taking part in an unau­tho­ri­zed demon­stra­tion, accor­ding to the offi­cial judg­ment. His sup­por­ters say the real rea­son he’s in jail is for chal­len­ging Pre­si­dent Moha­med Ould Abdel Aziz in the last election.

“We are very con­cer­ned about the situa­tion,” says Ivana Dama, an IRA spo­ke­sman in Italy. “For a few mon­ths, the Mau­ri­ta­nian autho­ri­ties have been deny­ing Biram access to medi­cal care and have inex­pli­ca­bly limi­ted pri­son visits. The only per­son per­mit­ted to come, only two times a week, is his wife. She is also the only one brin­ging him pro­per food.”

Abeid won 9 per­cent of the vote in the June 21, 2014, con­test, lar­gely from the Hara­tin eth­nic group.

An esti­ma­ted 700,000 Hara­tin are still living in slave-like employ­ment of Bey­da­nes, also cal­led Arab Ber­bers or “White Moors,” even though sla­very was for­mally abo­li­shed in 1981.

A few mon­ths after the vote, Abeid was arre­sted on Nov. 11 as he fol­lo­wed a cara­van of pro­te­sters orga­ni­zed in Rosso, on the bor­der with Sene­gal. In Decem­ber came the pre­dic­ta­ble judg­ment. Abeid, his right arm Bilal Ould Bra­him Ram­dane and Djiby Sow, a lea­der of ano­ther abo­li­tio­nist NGO, the Kaw­tal ngam Yel­li­taare, were con­vic­ted of unau­tho­ri­zed demon­stra­tions and mem­ber­ship in an unre­co­gni­zed orga­ni­za­tion. Abeid and Ram­dane lost their appeals on Aug. 20.

But the govern­ment hasn’t stop­ped its harass­ment and threats. On July 18, the acti­vist Yacoub Diarra, the husband of Dama and a repre­sen­ta­tive with IRA Italy, was taken by police in the middle of the night, drag­ged to Dar-Naïm police sta­tion and relea­sed. He had retur­ned to Mau­ri­ta­nia to cele­brate the end of Rama­dan and to visit Abeid.

“Today Biram needs urgent care,” Dama said. “We call on poli­ti­cians and insti­tu­tions to inter­vene. We don’t want yet ano­ther posthu­mous hero.”

Originally published at

Like what you read? Give il manifesto a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.