- A freelance journalist in Mauritania this week was detained for interviewing a runaway slave. Investigations into the remaining institution of slavery in Mauritania are not well seen by authorities, who claim that slavery has been abolished many years ago.
Freelance journalist Mohamed Lemine Ould Mahmoudi was investigating a case of domestic slavery in Mederdra, southwest Mauritania, when he was picked up by local police on 13 March. He was arrested together with two other individuals who were accompanying him in his research.
Mr Mahmoudi had been transcribing the story of Jabhallah Mint Mohamed, a young woman employed by wealthy "masters" to tend to their herd of sheep and goats. The woman had received neither salary nor compensation of any form for her services and had been ill-treated by her employers.
According to the banned organisation SOS Slaves, Ms Mohamed finally fled the estate on which she had served all her life in early March. The estate is located in the town of Abokak, approximately 20 kilometres from Mederdra.
Ms Mohamed is herself the daughter of slaves, illiterate and the mother of two children. After bringing her complaint to the local police, she was escorted back to her "masters" before finally being set up in a neighbouring town with her husband and children, SOS Slaves claims.
Mr Mahmoudi was accompanied by Aïchetou Mint El Hadar, a teacher, and Moya Mint Boyah, the wife of Oumar Ould Yali, an opposition Popular Progressive Alliance (APP) senator. According to local sources, the journalist and his companions are still in the custody of local police. They were allowed to leave the police station only during mealtimes.
Mauritanian authorities are sensitive to reporting about slavery and insist that the practice, outlawed in 1981, no longer exists in the country. Human rights groups however repeatedly have presented evidence that the practice still is widespread.
The arrest of Mr Mahmoudi and his research aides has caused loud protests by international press freedom groups. The Paris-based group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) today issued a statement saying: "Mohamed Lemine Ould Mahmoudi was arrested simply for practicing his profession. He must be freed immediately,"
Also the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) yesterday stated its concern over the arrest. Mr Mahmoudi was "reporting on a controversial topic of obvious public interest," said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. "He should be released immediately, and all charges against him should be dropped," Ms Cooper added.
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