Arbitrary drifts in the fight against terrorism: The FIDH is calling upon the Moroccan authorities to respect the law

A delegation from the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), composed of Patrick Baudouin, Honorary President, Souhayr Belhassen, Vice-President of the Tunisian Human Rights League (LTDH) and Olivier Guérin, Advocate-General at the Court of Cassation, visited Morocco between 12 and 19 July in order to gather any useful information on the situation of human rights within the context of the fight against terrorism.

Following the hideous attacks that took place on 16 May 2003 leaving the country grief-stricken, the FIDH has reaffirmed its solidarity with the Moroccan people as well as its complete and utter condemnation of criminal acts committed. It has also reasserted the State’s right and responsibility to fight against terrorist acts and punish all the authors of such acts.

However, a State must carry out this fight against terrorism with due regard for the rules of law and the FIDH expresses serious concerns regarding this matter based upon the various pieces of information it gathered during its visit.

As such, over the course of the year, it seems not only that, in a number of cases, the legal time limits for holding an individual in police custody were greatly exceeded, at times with falsified records as to the date that custody began, but also that individuals were arbitrarily kept in custody for several weeks. It should be added that, since 16 May 2003, massive amounts of people, between 2,000 and 5,000, have been called in for questioning in poorly defined conditions.

It was brought to the knowledge of the FIDH delegation that harsh treatment and torture (beatings, electrocution, sexual abuse…) have been practiced over the course of police investigations and particularly widespread in DST (Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire) localities in Temara through which most of the Islamists interrogated were brought. What is more, two individuals, Abdelhak Bentasser of Fès and Mohamed Bounnit of Taroudant, suffered suspicious deaths following their interrogation and despite the investigations and autopsies that were officially carried out, the numerous contradictions that remain show that the exact circumstances in which these deaths took place have yet to be determined. In this respect, when police brutalities and blunders occur, the fact that impunity still seems to be the rule must be deplored.

The FIDH delegation was alarmed by the precipitate conditions in which verdicts for terrorist cases are rendered and which thereby do not meet the criteria set for the effective right to a fair trial. Regarding this matter, the following points serve as an example: summary case file preparation, an absence of witness hearings during proceedings, guilty assessments for the defendants on the nearly exclusive basis of declarations transcribed during the police phase. Even though it appears that they are often unable to read these declarations over, the defense being faced with obstacles in truly exercising its rights (pressures on the appointed attorneys, poor motivation on the part of attorneys from the clerk’s office…), extremely heavy sentences are pronounced, including the death penalty, on the basis of insufficient investigations and charges, for a large number of individuals on trial.

The FIDH mission team is also concerned about the intensification, since 16 May 2003, of harsh detention conditions for incarcerated Islamists, particularly in the Kenitra and Sale prisons (cramped cells, privation of newspapers and other information means, restricted family visits…). Similarly, although they were exceptionally authorized to visit the Ocacha prison in Casablanca, they deplore the fact that they were unable to meet with some detainees, the penal administration having said these prisoners had been transferred to another establishment, while they have proof that these individuals were indeed present at Ocacha at the time of their visit.

All of these expressed concerns have been further intensified by the recent promulgation, on 29 May 2003, of an antiterrorist law whose drafting sparked strong opposition prior to the events of 16 May. The new legislation has in fact widened the field of incriminations stemming from antiterrorist repression, increased the amount of sentences likely to be pronounced, raised the number of death penalty cases, and strengthened police powers, extending the maximum period of police custody from 3 to 12 days being a key example.

At the hour in which trials have been opened for 700 Islamic suspects, the FIDH is calling upon the Moroccan authorities to put a stop to these observed rights violations and the Moroccan justice system to work with discretion at respecting the rights for each one of the accused by only pronouncing strictly individualized and proportionate sentences in those cases where guilt has been proven. Regarding this last issue, in addition to its complete opposition on the grounds of principle to the death penalty, the FIDH is urging Morocco and its sovereign to not fall into this confining trap and to not proceed forward with executions that will only hand over to the extremist enemies of freedom their long-awaited martyrs. The fight against terrorists must, in no case whatsoever, save making the task easier for them, lead to the adoption of some of their methods by freeing itself of the fundamental rules of respect for the human being.

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