Reuters International

By Kissima Diagana

NOUAKCHOTT (Reuters) - A leading anti-slavery campaigner in Mauritania said on Wednesday he would again run for president, one day after a Supreme Court decision freed him from 18 months in jail.

The decision reversed an appeals court judgement made in August which had upheld a two-year sentence for Biram Dah Abeid, the president of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA), and his vice-president.

Hundreds of supporters assembled in front of the Supreme Court with flags and posters with the faces of the campaigners. "Liberty! Liberty!" cried the demonstrators.

Biram Dah Abeid, a 2013 recipient of the U.N. Human Rights Prize, was arrested in Nov. 2014 during an anti-slavery march and sentenced in Jan. 2015 for belonging to an unrecognised organisation, organising and participating in an unauthorised protest and inciting trouble.

Slavery is a crime against humanity in Mauritania and last year the government doubled prison terms against perpetrators, but the practise is still believed to affect between 4 and 20 percent of the population.

When the Supreme Court decision was announced, a crowd marched to the prison to await the release of the campaigners before heading to Biram Dah Abeid's home about 10 km away.

Biram Dah Abeid, who was the runner-up in the most recent presidential elections, said he felt popular opinion increasingly backed him and his organisation, and called for freedom of association and expression.

"I say to you bluntly and clearly that my objective is to access the presidency of Mauritania through the voice of the vote, the democratic and pacific voice," he told Reuters.

The campaigner, along with his lawyers, boycotted the court proceedings. He had been jailed twice before for activities relating to his anti-slavery activity.

He said he and other inmates were forced to witness the torture of other prisoners. His vice-president Brahim Ould Bilal Ould Ramdane had been beaten by police on the day of his arrest, they said.

An advisor to the president said he was not able to comment on the allegation.

On Monday two slave-owners were handed five-year prison sentences and ordered to pay compensation to two victims, according to Anti-Slavery International, which had brought the case to trial.

(Writing by Makini Brice; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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