Mauritania – Speak out against torture and for the right to a fair trial: Aaron’s Story

Update: Aaron Yoon is back in Canada. 

In May 2011, Aaron Yoon, together with Ali Medlej and Xristos Katsiroubas, left Canada to study Arabic and the Koran. 

In January 2013, news broke that Ali and Xristos were killed after reportedly taking part in a terrorist attack on a gas plant in Algeria. Then media reported that Aaron had been in a prison in Mauritania since December 2011. Speculation immediately began about what might have happened to the three high school friends.

Amnesty International had the opportunity to interview Aaron Yoon in prison in 2012 – at the time these meetings were kept confidential by request – and again during our most recent research mission in June 2013.

The three young men travelled first to Morocco and later on to Mauritania, but later parted ways. According to Aaron, Ali and Xristos left separately for Morocco and Lebanon while he stayed in Mauritania to study.

Aaron was arrested in mid-December 2011 in the capital Nouakchott. Once in police custody, a simple request for a lawyer and translator triggered a beating so severe that he lost consciousness.  After a second session during which he was bound and severely beaten again, Aaron concluded that the only way to stop the torture was tell them what they wanted. He signed a statement which he understood indicated that he planned to go to Mali to join al-Qaeda. The statement was in Arabic and never read out to him.

Aaron remained in police custody for three weeks. Later, during brief court hearings for a trial and appeal the only evidence presented was the statement he signed under torture. There were no witnesses. His court-appointed lawyer did not intervene to defend him. At appeal, officials have asked that his two year sentence –  due to end in December – be increased to ten years.   The appeal decision is still pending.

Canadian Consular officials visited Aaron Yoon several times in prison, but it is unclear if they have raised his case – including the concerns about torture – with the Mauritanian government.

Send an urgent message to the Honourable John Baird, Minister for Foreign Affairs, calling on Canada to press Mauritania to respect Aaron Yoon’s rights to freedom from torture and a fair trial. 

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