WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Eliot L. Engel, the leading Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today made the following statement on the imprisonment of antislavery activist Biram Dah Abeid in Mauritania:

“I was deeply disappointed to hear of the sentencing of Mauritanian anti-slavery activist Biram Dah Abeid to two years in prison. Founder of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement, Biram is a passionate human rights defender, and in 2013 was awarded the United Nations Human Rights Prize and the Front Line Defenders Award for his work combating slavery in Mauritania. For his efforts, he has already been arrested several times on trumped-up charges, most recently during a peaceful protest march in November. The arrest and sentencing of Biram Dah Abeid, along with Brahim Bilal Ramdhane, IRA’s vice president, and Djiby Sow, president of the non-governmental organization Kawtal, undermine those who have the passion and courage to speak on behalf of human rights in Mauritania. I urge the Mauritanian authorities to release Biram and allow his organization and others like it to legally register.

“Since 1981, when Mauritania became the last country in the world to abolish slavery, its record of punishing slaveholders and ensuring a free society has been appalling. Slavery continues to exist, and perpetrators are rarely prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Instead of addressing these problems, the government has exhibited a pattern of harassment and abuse toward anti-slavery activists like Biram Dah Abeid and refuses to legalize their organizations as a way to silence them. This sentence is not justice. It is a deflection of the real issue at stake, which is equality for all Mauritanians. Slavery has no place in the 21st century, and people like Biram should be celebrated, not imprisoned.”