WASHINGTON—The Somalia government has commuted the death sentences of two American-trained scientists whose brutal treatment in prison was the focus of an onsite visit by a delegation from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and Institute of Medicine.

The two men, civil engineer Suleiman Nuh Ali and mathematician Abdi Ismail Yonis, have instead received 24-year prison sentences after having been convicted of treason during a trial last month. A spokesman for the Somalia government said that President Mohammed Siad Barre responded to appeals for clemency from the international community by blocking the execution of eight Somalis.

The U.S. human rights panels, which looked into the cases of 13 scientists, engineers and medical doctors, reported in January that none of the prisoners is known to have advocated or engaged in violent activities.

“It’s not that these people were even active dissidents,” said economist Lawrence Klein of the University of Pennsylvania before...

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