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Amnesty International to intercede on detained Canadian’s behalf

Yearbook photo of Aaron Yoon, now in a North African jail. London South Collegiate Institute

Amnesty International says it supports a Canadian detainee's claim that he was tortured by Mauritanian police and unfairly prosecuted last summer.

After a 10-day research mission to the North African country, the human rights organization said the allegations mounted earlier this year by Aaron Yoon, a 24-year-old Ontario man jailed under suspicion of terrorism, are "troublesome, credible and consistent with a wider pattern" of systemic torture in Mauritania.

Alex Neve, the Secretary-General of Amnesty International Canada who interviewed Mr. Yoon at a Nouakchott prison four times, said the London man was tortured twice while in police custody after asking for a lawyer and translator.

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"[Mr. Yoon] said to me, 'They had broken me emotionally. I couldn't take it anymore," Mr. Neve said, adding that Mr. Yoon says he was coerced into signing a de facto confession written in Arabic.

Mr. Yoon is a former high-school friend of two now-dead Canadians who were implicated in a terrorist attack on an Algerian gas plant that killed dozens of hostages in January. He was initially sentenced to a two-year jail term but Mauritanian prosecutors are now pressing to lengthen his sentence to 10 years.

Since news of his detention first emerged in Canada, Mr. Yoon has maintained his innocence, telling the CBC in April, "I have been wrongfully accused, I've been beat up and tortured."

Mr. Yoon also told the broadcaster that Ottawa had done nothing to help him, but a government source said consular officials visited the Canadian nine times. Mr. Yoon, who initially declined Amnesty International's assistance in July, also hid his detention from his family and maintained that he was studying Arabic abroad.

Mr. Neve said Mr. Yoon's description of the officers involved and the details he provided – for example that his hands and feet were cuffed behind his back and then connected and pulled taut so he was arched and unable to defend himself – jibed with information obtained from around 60 other detainees held in Mauritania.

In a blog post to be published Tuesday night, Mr. Neve said he met with the director of the school where Mr. Yoon said he and his two friends, Ali Medlej and Kris Katsiroubas, had been studying. "He remembered Aaron and the two other Canadians and described them as being students like all others," Mr. Neve wrote. "According to Aaron, Ali and Chris [sic] didn't stick it out with him in Naim; leaving separately for Morocco and Lebanon soon after."

Mr. Neve, who landed in Ottawa on Tuesday, has already sent a letter to Diane Ablonczy, Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas and Consular Affairs), urging the government to do whatever it can to ensure Mr. Yoon faces a fair judicial process.

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In the meantime, Mr. Neve said Mr. Yoon is healthy and adjusting to prison life: "He's made a little bit of a home for himself in his jail cell. He's got a carpet on the floor, he's got a thin mattress, he's got books that he's received from consular visits and other prisoners, and he has something to make tea with. He's as comfortable as you can be, I guess, in that kind of situation."

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