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Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009 - Morocco and Western Sahara

Publisher International Federation for Human Rights
Publication Date 18 June 2009
Cite as International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009 - Morocco and Western Sahara, 18 June 2009, available at: [accessed 17 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Political context

In 2008, hopes that aroused in the promotion of human rights, in particular through the follow-up of recommendations issued by the Equity and Reconciliation Commission (Instance équité et réconciliation – IER), voluntary commitments and recommendations made under the Universal Periodic Review during the April 8, 2008 session,1 as well as the development of a National Action Plan for Human Rights, raised many questions both in Morocco and abroad. While a new stage should be reached soon with regards to the equality between men and women following the announcement, on the occasion of 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of the lifting of reservations made in 1993 during ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the implementation of other commitments was delayed. Recommendations issued by IER in terms of institutional reforms had still not been implemented as of late 2008. Little progress was also recorded towards the abolition of the death penalty, ratification of the Statute of the International Criminal Court, the criminalisation of arbitrary detention or the reform of the Higher Judicial Council (Conseil supérieur de la magistrature).

In addition, dozens of people, journalists, political activists and human rights defenders were prosecuted in 2008, and in some cases were sentenced to prison for having expressed their political views or taken part in public gatherings. In addition, under Article 179 of the Criminal Code and certain provisions of the Press Code, any "offence committed against the person of the King or heir to the Throne" or "attack against the monarchy" is punishable by sentences of up to five years' imprisonment and heavy fines. On September 8, 2008, Mr. Mohamed Erraji, a Moroccan blogger, was sentenced to two years in prison and fined 5,000 dirhams (about 453 Euros) for "lack of respect due to the King". The conviction followed the publication of an article on the Moroccan website, entitled "King encourages the People towards charity".2 Journalists were also prosecuted for "defamation" or "lack of respect due to the King". For instance, Mr. Ahmed Reda Benchemsi, Director of the weekly newspapers Nichan and Tel Quel, has been subjected to judicial proceedings since Summer 2007 for "lack of respect due to the King" after publishing an editorial criticising a speech given by the Head of State on parliamentary elections in September 2007.3

Finally, the conflict in Western Sahara has remained unresolved since the failure of direct negotiations advocated by the United Nations Security Council Resolution dated April 30, 2007. The human rights situation in the region experienced no improvement in 2008. Authorities continued to suppress any form of challenge to the official position that Western Sahara is part of Morocco, the Government banned all peaceful demonstrations calling for the independence of Western Sahara, and security forces arbitrarily arrested many Saharawi demonstrators and suspected militants. They beat and tortured them, and forced them to sign incriminating statements, and this with complete impunity. Finally, in many cases, courts convicted and sentenced them to prison terms following unfair proceedings.

Obstacles to freedom of peaceful assembly and use of disproportionate force against demonstrators

While freedom of assembly is guaranteed by Dahir (Royal Decree) No. 1-58-377 of 1958 on Public Gatherings, the police, on several occasions in 2008, resorted to disproportionate use of force to disperse sit-ins or gatherings of people protesting for their rights to be respected. For instance, several sit-ins held in 2008 by the National Association of Unemployed Graduates (Association nationale des diplômés chômeurs – ANDCM) in front of the Parliament in Rabat were violently dispersed by the police, leaving many injured.4 Similarly, on April 12, 2008, the police brutally repressed a sit-in against rising prices held in front of Parliament by the Joint Committees for the Fight Against the High Cost of Living and the Deterioration of Public Services (Coordinations de lutte contre la cherté de la vie et la dégradation des services publics).5 On May 14, 2008, an event organised by the National Union of Moroccan Students (Union nationale des étudiants marocains – UNEM) in Marrakech was violently repressed by the police.6 Eighteen students were arrested. Several reported having been abused during interrogations.7 On August 12, the Court of Appeals in Marrakech confirmed the conviction of seven of them8 to one year's imprisonment and a fine of 1,500 dirhams (about 136 Euros). Inmates in the Boulemharez prison in Marrakech, they appealed the decision. As of the end of 2008, others remained also detained in the Boulemharez prison and were awaiting trial.9 On December 27 and 28, 2008, the police again brutally repressed two events organised by UNEM in Marrakech in solidarity with Gaza. Forty protesters were wounded, and ten were hospitalised.10

Acts of violence were also committed during the repression of a social movement in the city of Sidi Ifni, in south-western Morocco. On June 7, 2008, the police violently dispersed demonstrators who had blocked access to the port city of Sidi Ifni for one week in protest against the socio-economic situation in the region and to demand the implementation of a development policy that had been promised for several years by local and national authorities. After the blockade was lifted, the police raided homes, causing property damage and inflicting beatings and insults to the inhabitants. Women suffered sexual violence and assault.11 The police arrested one hundred people, including Mr. Ibrahim Bara, Secretary General of the local committee for the Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions for Aid to Citizens (Association pour la taxation des transactions financières pour l'aide aux citoyennes et citoyens – ATTAC) and a member of UNEM,12 and Mr. Brahim Sabaalil, Head of the branch of the Moroccan Centre for Human Rights (Centre marocain pour les droits de l'Homme) in Sidi Ifni. On August 26, 2008, Mr. Sabaalil was sentenced by the Court of Appeals in Salé to six months in jail and a fine of 1,000 dirhams (about 90 Euros) for "insulting public authorities by reporting fictitious crimes" after having reported "deaths, disappearances and rapes" in Sidi Ifni at a press conference held in Rabat on June 26.13 He was also accused of "complicity" and "spreading false information" in connection with another trial involving Mr. Hassan Rachidi, Head of the Al-Jazeera Rabat office, following the broadcast of a news piece reporting several deaths in Sidi Ifni. On July 10, 2008, the Court of First Instance in Rabat sentenced them to a fine of 50,000 dirhams (about 4 Euros). As of late 2008, 22 people linked to the events in Sidi Ifni were still being held by Moroccan authorities, and nine had been provisionally released.14

Intimidation of defenders denouncing abuses perpetrated within the framework of the fight against terrorism

In 2008, several human rights defenders who denounced abuses perpetrated in the context of the fight against terrorism (enforced disappearances, abductions, arrests without warrants, torture to extract confessions, etc.) were harassed by authorities because of their commitment in defending the rights of suspected terrorists. On July 24, 2008, the Rabat Court of Appeals, held in camera, imposed a reprimand for professional misconduct on Mr. Taoufik Moussaïf Benhammou, Attorney at the Rabat Bar, following his statements published on August 19, 2006 in the daily newspaper Annahar Al Maghribia about the terrorist network "Ansar Al Mahdi", of which many members had been sentenced from two to 30 years in prison.15 Mr. Moussaïf had questioned investigations conducted by security services and the judiciary on this issue by saying it was "fabricated from scratch". Mr. Moussaïf was been summoned twice by security officers, who allegedly threatened him with reprisals if he did not "put an end to media coverage of cases involving Islamists". The association Annassir for the Support of Islamist Prisoners (Annassir pour le soutien des détenus islamistes) was also subjected to acts of intimidation intended to hamper its activities and silence its claims. Most of the organisation's sit-ins were repressed by the police, which sometimes used violence to disperse the detainees' families, most of them being women. On May 27, 2008, the police violently dispersed a sit-in of the association held in front of the Oukacha prison in Casablanca. A mother and her child were hit by a security officer dressed in plain clothes. Mr. Abderrahim Mohtad, President of Annassir, was arrested and then released several hours later.16 Furthermore, on October 30, 2008, a conference organised by Annassir and the British NGO "Reprieve" was cancelled by the police, which surrounded the place where the conference was to be held; participants were forced to evacuate the room. The meeting was to focus on the situation of former Guantanamo detainees returned to Morocco.17

Ongoing repression of human rights defenders in Western Sahara

In 2008, Saharawi human rights defenders continued to be subjected to harassment of all kinds. On April 28, 2008, Mr. Ennaama Asfari, Co-chairman of the Committee for the Respect of Freedoms and Human Rights in Western Sahara (Comité pour le respect des libertés et des droits humains au Sahara occidental – CORELSO), was sentenced to two months' imprisonment and a fine of 3,000 dirhams (about 272 Euros) for "violence against the authorities", "carrying a bladed weapon", and "drunk driving". Mr. Asfari, arrested on April 13, 2008 in Marrakech, was falsely accused of violence and drunk driving at the occasion of a car accident. He complained that he was only questioned about his political activities and suffered acts of ill-treatment and torture at the occasion of his arrest. On April 25, 2008, a delegation from Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (Action des chrétiens pour l'abolition de la torture – ACAT), which was investigating the situation of human rights in Western Sahara, was expelled by Moroccan authorities on the grounds that its members represented a risk to public order. On April 21, they had attended Mr. Asfari's trial. The latter was released on June 13, after serving his full sentence. On June 16, the Court of Appeal upheld the verdict and sentence.18

In 2008, members of the Saharawi Association of Victims of Grave Human Rights Violations Committed by the State of Morocco (Association sahraouie des victimes de violations graves des droits de l'Homme commises par l'État marocain – ASVDH), an association that is not recognised by the Moroccan authorities,19 continued to be subjected to prosecution and to obstacles to their freedom of movement. On June 17, 2008, the police prevented relatives of Mr. Brahim Sabbar, ASVDH Secretary General, from visiting him at his home to congratulate him for his release after two years of detention. Some persons, including Mr. Sidi Mohamed Dadach, President of the Saharawi Committee for the Support of the Right to Self-determination (Comité sahraoui pour le soutien du droit à l'autodétermination), were physically assaulted by the police. Mr. Brahim Sabbar was then prevented from visiting Mr. Embarek Hiji, another ASVDH member, by security agents who surrounded Mr. Hiji's neighbourhood area and blocked people from approaching his home. On October 17, 2008, Mr. Brahim Sabbar was prevented by two police officers from visiting the neighbourhood, where Ms. Elghalia Djimi, Vice-President of the ASVDH, and Mr. Mohamed Dadach reside.20 Moreover, although he was sentenced on December 4, 2007 to two and a half years in prison for "arson", Mr. Mohamed Talhil, Chairman of ASVDH Boujdour section, was told by the prison administration that the Laayoun Court of Appeal had again sentenced him on November 11, 2008 to a three-month suspended sentence and a fine of 2,000 dirhams (about 181 Euros) for "defamation of a State official in the performance of his duty".21 As of late 2008, he was still detained in the Laayoun prison.

Furthermore, in 2008, Moroccan police broke up several demonstrations organised in the cities of Western Sahara to denounce human rights violations and claim the right of the Saharawi people to self-determination; they proceeded to arrest and intimidate some of the protesters. For example, on September 21, 2008, following a demonstration organised in Smara in the wake of a visit by the international NGO Front Line in the region to denounce human rights violations and claim the right of the Saharawi people to self-determination, Ms. Engiya Boukhari, a member of the Saharawi Committee for Human Rights in Smara (Comité sahraoui pour la défense des droits humains à Smara), was physically assaulted by security forces. A few days later, the social support she received as part of a national promotion program was frozen in retaliation for her participation in the event. Dozens of demonstrators were also arrested, including Mr. Brahim Cheikhi, a member of the Saharawi Committee for Human Rights in Smara, Mr. Baali Hmaim and Mr. Ahamad Basir Sidi, who were still subjected to judicial proceedings at the end of 2008. Mr. Hamad Al-Nassiri, Secretary General of the Commission for the Defence of Human Rights in Smara (Commission pour la défense des droits de l'Homme à Smara) and a member of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (Association marocaine des droits humains – AMDH), was also informed on October 3, 2008 that he was fired from his jobat the municipality of Khouribga. His dismissal was linked to his participation in these events, as well as his meeting with Front Line in September 2008.22 Mr. Al-Nassiri challenged his dismissal before the Administrative Court of Casablanca, which had not yet come to a decision as of the end of 2008.

Finally, police violence against Saharawi human rights defenders generally went unpunished. For example, the Prosecutor of the Laayoun Court of Appeal was asked to decide on a complaint filed in January 2008 by Mr. Dahla Rahmouni, member of ASVDH Executive Committee, and Mr. Brahim al-Ansari, member of the AMDH Laayoun section, in which they accused the police in Laayoun of having subjected them to acts of ill-treatment during their arrest in December 2007. However, on May 5, 2008, Moroccan authorities declared the investigation closed for "lack of evidence", without calling in the two men to testify, and based solely on the defence's statements.23

Urgent Interventions issued by the Observatory in 200824

Names of human rights defenders / NGOsViolationsIntervention ReferenceDate of Issuance
Moroccan Association for Human rights (AMDH), National Association of Unemployed Graduates in Morocco (ANDCM), Moroccan Labour Union (UMT), Attac Morocco and Moroccan Forum for Truth and JusticeArbitrary detention / Obstacles to freedom of peaceful assemblyJoint Press ReleaseFebruary 15, 2008
Messrs. Brahim Sabbar, Sidi Mohamed Dadach, Ahmed Sbai, Oum Alfadli Ali Ahmed Babou and Embarek HijiHarassmentUrgent Appeal MAR 002/0606/ OBS 079.2June 23, 2008

1 See United Nations Human Rights Council, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review on Morocco, United Nations Document A/HRC/8/22, May 22, 2008.

2 On September 18, 2008, the Agadir Court of Appeals cancelled his sentence due to procedural defect.

3 See Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières – RSF) Press Release, September 4, 2008. On September 3, 2008, Mr. Ahmed Reda Benchemsi's trial was reported sine die by the Casablanca Court.

4 See Moroccan Association for Human Rights (Association marocaine des droits humains – AMDH) Press Release, May 6, 2008.

5 See Moroccan Organisation for Human Rights (Organisation marocaine des droits humains – OMDH) Press Release, April 16, 2008.

6 The protest was organised following the poisoning of twenty students in the Marrakech University Centre and resulted in protests calling for better working conditions, upgrading of university scholarships, etc.

7 This case was made famous by the testimony of Ms. Zohra Boudkhour, the only woman arrested during the demonstration, a student and member of the UNEM, who denounced the abuse she suffered at the time of her arrest in a letter to her family. See AMDH Press Release, July 16, 2008.

8 Messrs. Nasser Ahsain, Younes Al-Salami, Mohamed Al-Idrissi, Hisham Al-Idrissi, Hafiz Al- Hafezi, Radawan Al-Zibiri and Mansour Aghdir.

9 Ms. Zohra Boudkhour and Messrs. Galal Al-Qitbi, Abdelallah Al-Rashidi, Alaa Al-Dirbali, Mohamed Gamili, Youssef Mashdoufi, Mohamed Al-Arabi Gadi, Youssef Al-Alawi, Khaled Mouftah, Mourad Al-Chouni and Ousman Al-Chouni.

10 See AMDH.

11 See OMDH Commission of Inquiry Report on the events of Sidi Ifni, July 1, 2008.

12 He was arrested on June 18, 2008 after having taken refuge for eleven days in the mountains in the Sidi Ifni region.

13 He was released on December 26, 2008 after serving his sentence.

14 The Moroccan Government set up a Parliamentary Commission to investigate into the events of June 7, 2008 in Sidi Ifni. On December 17, the Commission submitted its report to the House of Representatives. The report refuted allegations of murder or rape committed by the police, but acknowledged property damages (broken doors), as well as the violence and insults by the police towards some inhabitants. The Moroccan Centre for Human Rights criticised the report which, according to it, ignored allegations of torture, attempted rape and sexual harassment.

15 The Court had been seized by the King's Prosecutor, who had previously brought the case before the Rabat Bar Council, which had decided on October 3, 2006 to close the case, stating that Mr. Taoufik Moussaïf had not disseminated any information to be kept secret as part of an ongoing investigation. The Council also concluded that the newspaper articles had misrepresented the remarks made by Mr. Moussaïf.

16 See Annassir.

17 Idem.

18 See Saharawi Association of Victims of Grave Human rights Violations Committed by the State of Morocco (ASVDH).

19 Local authorities in Laayoun have always refused to acknowledge receipt of the application for registration of the ASVDH. On September 21, 2006, the Administrative Court of Agadir labelled the refusal to issue a receipt to the association an abuse of power. The authorities did not appeal this decision. However, as of late 2008 this decision had not yet been implemented.

20 See ASVDH Press Release, October 17, 2008.

21 See ASVDH Press Release, November 11, 2008.

22 See Front Line Press Release, December 10, 2008.

23 See ASVDH.

24 See the Compilation of cases in the CD-Rom attached to this report.

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