Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada
June 24, 2013
"I came to study Arabic and the Koran. I have learned about torture and injustice."
- Canadian national Aaron Yoon, 24 years of age, interviewed in the Prison Civil, Nouakchott, Mauritania, June 2013.
Over the past ten days, as part of an Amnesty International mission in Mauritania I have spent many days interviewing prisoners in three prisons in the capital, Nouakchott. For years now, Amnesty International has documented serious and widespread torture in Mauritania and the research mission followed up on those and other human rights concerns.
Among many prisoners I interviewed in Nouakchott’s Prison Centrale, I heard much about torture from a young Canadian man, Aaron Yoon, who has been held here for the past 18 months. Aaron’s tale is a complicated and unusual one; which he realizes. He knows that many Canadians will have questions about the chain of events that brought him to this point. But he wants all to realize that he has been tortured and has been convicted on the basis of a blatantly unfair trial that gave him no opportunity to defend himself. As he said to me: "I hope people will not rush to judge me unless they give me a fair chance to respond to what is being said about me. It is terrible to be tortured. It makes you say what they want you to say."
<< UPDATE: A Mauritanian appeal court ruled on Sunday 14 July that Aaron Yoon, a Canadian from London, Ontario should now be released from prison. Learn more
The concerns about torture in Mauritania are widespread and longstanding, including in the cases of a growing number of prisoners held on charges related to terrorism or national security, but also with respect to minors, women and men detained on ordinary criminal charges. In fact, virtually no one is safe from torture when in the hands of the Mauritanian police.