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Mauritania’s appeals court must quash jail terms of up to 15 years handed down to 13 anti-slavery activists and release them from prison immediately, Amnesty International said ahead of their hearing on Monday.

“This is an open and shut case of the government trying to silence anti-slavery activists in Mauritania,” said Kiné Fatim Diop, Amnesty International’s West Africa Campaigner.

“From the outset this trial has been marred by irregularities, and allegations of torture that have not been investigated. The authorities have failed to prove any criminal responsibility for the acts of violence these individuals have been accused of. The Appeal Court must put an end this farce.”

Amnesty International has designated the 13 activists as prisoners of conscience.   

The activists were originally sentenced on 3 August to between three and 15 years in prison on trumped up charges of rebellion, use of violence, attacks against the police and judicial officials and membership of an unrecognized organization.

The charges relate to a protest against the eviction of a slum that took place in the capital Nouakchott on July. However, none of the 13 activists were present at the protest and the organization they belong to – The Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement – did not provide any support to the protest.

One of the activists, Mohamed Jarroulah, was in a city 1200 km away on the day of the protest. Nonetheless he was sentenced to three years in prison.

Another activist, Moussa Biram, claims that he was tortured by police on 16 August while in detention. The court rejected his complaint stating it was not competent to handle the case, despite the fact that Mauritania’s law on torture obliges the national courts to rule immediately on all complaints for acts of torture and invalidate any evidence obtained by torture.

The crackdown on anti-slavery activists and human rights activists that we are witnessing in Mauritania has no legal justification whatsoever. If the appeal court fails to overturn these unfair sentences, it will be a slap in the face to the hundreds of thousands of voices around the world campaigning for the effective abolition of slavery,” said Kiné Fatim Diop.