GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) - An appeals court in Mauritania overturned the convictions of three anti-slavery activists on Friday and reduced the sentences of 10 others for their alleged role in a riot in June, Amnesty International said.
A tribunal had sentenced the 13 members of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA) in August to up to 15 years in prison after a protest against eviction by residents of a slum in the capital Nouakchott, many of whom are themselves former slaves.
U.N. experts said the activists’ trial was marred by serious rights violations, citing reports of torture in detention and irregularities during the court proceedings.
In addition to the three whose convictions were overturned, seven others are now to be released on time served, Amnesty said in a statement.
“The release of three anti-slavery activists who had been unfairly sentenced to up to 15 years for peacefully expressing their opinions is a huge relief,” said Kine Fatim Diop, Amnesty’s West Africa campaigner.
“However the fact that the appeals court still convicted 10 of them and three activists remain in jail represents a distressing sign of the shrinking space that human rights activists and civil society organizations are facing,” Diop added.
Mauritania has attempted to crack down on slavery and last year passed a law making it a crime against humanity and doubling prison terms for offenders.
Campaigners, however, say it will not be enough to stamp out the deeply-ingrained practice, which mostly affects cattle herders and domestic servants from the country’s Haratin minority.
Reporting By Aaron Ross