Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 1998 - Morocco and Western Sahara, 1 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a9f013.html [accessed 9 December 2013]
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(This report covers the period January-December 1997) Over 50 political prisoners and prisoners of conscience continued to serve long prison sentences imposed after unfair trials in previous years. Dozens of members of an opposition organization were sentenced to terms of imprisonment: they were prisoners of conscience. Scores of political opposition activists were imprisoned after unfair trials. Torture and ill-treatment continued to be reported, particularly of people charged with criminal offences. Hundreds of Sahrawis and Moroccans who "disappeared" in previous years remained unaccounted for. A former prisoner of conscience forcibly exiled in 1991 remained unable to return to Morocco. At least three people were sentenced to death and at least 40 others reportedly remained on death row at the end of the year. No executions were carried out. Municipal elections were held in June, followed by parliamentary elections in November. The four parties grouped in the Koutla Addimocratia (democratic bloc) won 102 of the 325 seats in the parliamentary elections. The three parties representing the Wifaq (consensus bloc) won 100 seats, the centre bloc 97, and other smaller parties 26. An interim cabinet was appointed by King Hassan ii in July Under the auspices of the newly appointed personal envoy of the UN Secretary-General to Western Sahara, talks resumed between the Moroccan Government and the Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguia el-Hamra y Rio de Oro, Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (known as the Polisario Front). In September the two parties were reported to have agreed a "code of conduct" for the planned referendum on the international status of Western Sahara. The agreement led to the resumption in December of the voter identification process by the UN Mission in Western Sahara (minurso), a process which had been suspended by the UN Security Council in May 1996 as a result of a dispute between the two parties. In October the UN Security Council extended the mandate of minurso. It was announced that the referendum would take place in December 1998. More than 50 prisoners of conscience and political prisoners imprisoned after unfair trials in previous years continued to be detained. The prisoners of conscience were 'Ahmed Haou, Abdelkader Sfiri, Mustapha Marjaoui and Youssef Cherkaoui-Rbati, who continued to serve life sentences. They had been arrested in 1983 with other supporters and sympathizers of unauthorized Islamist groups and accused of putting up anti-monarchist posters, distributing leaflets and participating in demonstrations (see previous Amnesty International Reports). Prisoner of conscience Abdessalem Yassine, the spiritual leader of the banned Islamist association al-Adl wa'l 'Ihsan (Justice and Charity), remained under administratively imposed house arrest for the seventh consecutive year More than 130 supporters of the Parti de l'avant-garde démocratique socialiste (pads), Socialist Democratic Vanguard Party, were arrested in June and November in various towns following calls by the pads to boycott the municipal and parliamentary elections. Dozens of them were tried and sentenced to up to five months' imprisonment on charges of inciting voters to abstain from voting. They were prisoners of conscience. Scores of political opposition activists were imprisoned after unfair trials. In June, 45 people were reportedly arrested in the Sidi Bettach constituency near Rabat, the capital, following protests at alleged ballot rigging by the authorities during the municipal elections. Nineteen of those arrested were tried in June on various charges, including assault and insulting public authority, and sentenced to two years' imprisonment after a summary trial. The court allegedly refused to hear all the defence witnesses and did not investigate claims by some defendants that they had been ill-treated by the police. There were also reports of violence by the police in court against supporters of the defendants. The sentences were reduced to one year's imprisonment on appeal in August Scores of Islamist students were reportedly arrested during the year in several towns following protests against their university conditions. A few were subsequently sentenced after unfair trials to up to one year's imprisonment on various charges, including taking part in unauthorized demonstrations and using insulting and violent behaviour. They were possible prisoners of conscience. Scores of members of the Association des chômeurs diplômés, Association of Unemployed Graduates, were reportedly arrested during demonstrations and sentenced to up to six months' imprisonment after unfair trials. They too were possible prisoners of conscience. Allegations by the Islamist students and members of the Association des chômeurs diplômés that they had been beaten by the police or tortured were not investigated by the courts during the trials. Other reports of torture and ill-treatment were received during the year. At least three of nine Sahrawis reportedly arrested in connection with their alleged support for the independence of Western Sahara were said to have been tortured. Among them was Hammad Ali Hamad, who was reportedly arrested in May in Laayoune and held incommunicado for 11 days. Some of the political opposition activists arrested during the year at protests were reportedly beaten by the police and in some cases tortured. For example, El Hayouni Ossama, who was arrested in January during a student protest at Hassan ii University in Casablanca, was reportedly tortured for two days by having a cloth soaked in dirty water, chemicals and urine inserted into his mouth, and by being beaten and deprived of sleep. People arrested on criminal charges were also reported to have been tortured or ill-treated. The authorities failed to investigate complaints made in previous years of torture and ill-treatment of detainees during incommunicado detention, sometimes illegally prolonged for weeks, and the acceptance as evidence by courts of confessions allegedly extracted under torture (see previous Amnesty International Reports) Hundreds of Sahrawis and Moroccans who "disappeared" after arrest in previous years remained unaccounted for (see previous Amnesty International Reports). They included Abdelhaq Rouissi, a trade unionist who "disappeared" in 1964; Abdallah Cherrouk, a student who "disappeared" in 1981; and Mohamed-Salem Bueh-Barca and Tebker Ment Sidi-Mohamed Ould Khattari, who "disappeared" in Laayoune in 1976. No steps were taken to investigate the "disappearance" of hundreds of Sahrawis and Moroccans who were released in 1991 after up to 18 years in secret detention, or the deaths in secret detention of scores of others. Neither those released in 1991 nor the families of those who died in secret detention received any compensation. There was no information at the end of the year on the investigations being carried out into the deaths in custody in 1996 of Houssein Al-Mernissi (see Amnesty International Report 1997) and Mohamed Feddaoui. Abraham Serfaty, a former prisoner of conscience who was forcibly expelled to France on his release in 1991, remained unable to return to Morocco. At least three people were sentenced to death and at least 40 others reportedly remained on death row at the end of the year. No executions were carried out. Amnesty International wrote to the authorities requesting information about cases of alleged human rights violations and calling for independent investigations to be carried out. The organization also called on the authorities to release all prisoners of conscience. No response was received. In November an Amnesty International delegation met the Minister of Justice and discussed the organization's concerns