Ten Mauritanian anti-slavery activists were on Friday handed their freedom in a partial appeal court victory that left three of their fellow accused in jail, a judicial source said.

An appeals court in the northern town of Zouerate acquitted three of the activists, while seven others were handed jail sentences that they have already served. Three others, however, must still spend time behind bars.

“The court has corrected an error by qualifying the events as an offence, and not a crime. That’s very positive,” one of the defence lawyers, Bah Ould Mbareck said.

qatar airways

“In the meantime, we’re continuing to believe that they’re all innocent.”

On Wednesday, prosecutors had called for a 20-year sentence against the activists, who were originally handed 15-year jail terms at their trial in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott in August.

The prosecutor accused all 13 activists of launching a “rebellion against the public authority and vandalism”.

The activists previously claimed to have been tortured in custody.

The 13 were initially convicted of using violence, attacking security forces, gathering while armed and membership of an unrecognised organisation – the Abolitionist Movement.

Mauritania has also come under the spotlight for human rights abuses in respect to a blogger on death row, originally accused of apostasy but then a reduced charge of “infidel” behaviour.

Cheikh Ould Mohamed Ould Mkheitir was sentenced to death in 2014 in the deeply conservative Islamic country over an article he wrote, allegedly challenging decisions taken by Islam’s prophet Muhammad and his companions during holy wars in the seventh century.

Mkheitir’s article also attacked the mistreatment of the country’s black population, blasting “an iniquitous social order” with an underclass that was “marginalised and discriminated against from birth”, and to which he belongs.