The Mauritanian government doesn't want you to know that 10 to 20 percent of its people are enslaved. Officials don't want you to think about how the West African country was the last to abolish slavery, in 1981, and didn't criminalize the practice until just over a decade ago, in 2007. They don't want you to imagine the conditions of the former slaves, known as Haratin, who now form Mauritania's lowest caste, living in extreme poverty under a regime that denies them access to work, education and the basic rights that come along with citizenship.
And they certainly don't want you to see it.
That's why when Seif Kousmate, a photographer based in Morocco, set out to capture the everyday lives of the country's Haratin people, Mauritanian authorities arrested, jailed and interrogated him. They released Kousmate four days later, returning his laptop and camera, but held on to multiple memory cards with photos he'd taken during the month he spent in Haratin villages, where tents and shanties dot the desert landscape.
Modern Day Slavery: Seif Kousmate's Photos of the Haratins in Mauritania Reveal Their misery—and Got Him Jailed