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» 20.07.2009 - Abdelaziz wins elections, opposition claim irregularities
» 05.06.2009 - Mauritania's democracy deal hailed
» 03.06.2009 - Mauritania election compromise reached
» 02.06.2009 - Mediators push for later elections in Mauritania
» 28.05.2009 - Mauritanian parties at the negotiations table
» 20.05.2009 - Thousands demand Junta to scrap elections
» 14.05.2009 - Mauritania editor narrowly escapes death
» 17.04.2009 - Mauritania's former ruling party: abort electoral process

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Politics | Society | Human rights

Joy after Mauritania acquittal of 24 "Islamists"

afrol News, 9 June - Human rights groups today celebrated the acquittal of 24 alleged "Islamist terrorists" as a victory of democracy and the independence of the judiciary in Mauritania. The Nouakchott court concluded that the confessions by the suspects had been produced under torture and therefore rejected the evidence.

The Nouakchott court reached its judgement on Tuesday. 24 out of the 25 accused were acquitted and only one, Khadim Ould Semmane, received an in absentia sentence of two years in prison and a euro 300 fine. Mr Ould Semmane escaped from the prison of Nouakchott in April 2006 and is still hiding from justice.

The group of 25 "Islamists" had been presented with grave accusations. Allegedly, in 2004, the group had been trained by the Algerian terrorist cell Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), a group that now claims to represent Al Qaeda in North Africa. The GSPC and at least 30 Mauritanian Islamist were said to have been behind an attack in northern Mauritania in 2005, killing 15 persons. But the court found no credible evidence of this.

The Mauritanian Human Rights Association (AMDH) yesterday in a statement said it was "pleased" with the ruling by the Nouakchott court because it had "rejected confessions of the 25 supposed terrorists obtained under torture." The group twice had visited the Nouakchott prison, where it had found documentation of "torture and otherwise inhuman and degrading treatments" of the terrorism suspects.

According to the human rights activists, these practices stem from the ancien régime of President Maaouya Ould Taya, but had also continued during the first part of the transition period that led Mauritania into a full-fledged democracy. AMDH reminded Nouakchott authorities and judges that torture was "prohibited in all circumstances, including in the framework of fighting terrorism."

As the lawsuits against the supposed terrorist started on 21 May, AMDH tabled a demand to disregards most of the evidence to be presented in the case as this had been based on confessions obtained under torture. Also Mauritanian law foresees that such material cannot be used as proof in court. The judge's decision to respect this provision is however unique in Mauritania, and seldom in Africa at large.

Also the Mauritanian press and foreign observers celebrated Tuesday's acquittal as an important victory for democracy and human rights in the country. Mauritania has a history of autocratic regimes and little independence for the judiciary. Only with the military coup against President Ould Taya in August 2005, leaders with truly democratic instincts came to power.

A military junta led Mauritania through a democratic transition process that ended with the installation of a democratic civilian government in April this year. Throughout the transition, the judiciary, military, police and other state institutions have been reformed to get rid of deep-rooted autocratic and undemocratic practices. Also the press was let to operate freely and human rights institutions were strengthened.

For many observers, this week's ruling was the first important test case for the Mauritanian judiciary after the reform process and after the installing of the new civilian regime. Human rights groups, including the AMDH, conclude that the Nouakchott judge clearly demonstrated that new winds are blowing in Mauritania.

Now, the alleged terrorism case is to test the reforms even further. After the Nouakchott court accepted that the evidence in the case was useless because obtained under torture, AMDH plans to test whether the Mauritanian judiciary is ready for the ultimate test on democracy and respect for the law: The human rights activist have now required authorities to open an investigation into the reported torture of the acquitted "Islamists" and bring the torturers to court.

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