Land reform that Abeid and the other activists were canvassing for is the latest front in an ongoing battle against the inequalities created by slavery.
"All land belongs to the state in theory," said Bilal Ould Merzeg, a former ambassador and the founding member of the El Hor political movement (founded in the 1970s to fight for the rights of black moors). "But in the distribution of land, even at the state level, feudal reflexes also remain, and land is distributed to the powerful."
Isselmou Ould Abdelkader, a former minister of foreign affairs and a consultant on human rights, disagrees. "Land belongs to the tribe," he told IRIN. "And everyone has access to it." Abdelkader said the "slave mode of production" has been dead for years. But, he said, it is common for certain people in society - what he would prefer to call serfs instead of slaves - are expected to pay a tithe to their masters, former or otherwise, after the agricultural season.
Abdoulaye Sow, a professor of sociology at the University of Nouakchott, told IRIN that serf or slave, the problem is about the country's deep hierarchies. Land reform for the benefit of the slaves and former slaves, "would undermine the foundations of Mauritanian society, which is profoundly unequal," said Sow.
The Mauritanian government continues to crack down on the anti-slavery activists. Several IRA members were arrested in a Nouakchott mosque in October. And on 13 November, a few days after Abeid's arrest, the police and National Guard used violent force to put down a protest led by IRA members and supporters at Nouakchott's main market.