Why the 7 co-defendants don’t stand a chance of a fair trial

The lack of independence of the Moroccan judiciary is notorious as been shown in many a political trial in recent years.

In the case of the co-defendants, this lack of independence is likely to be exacerbated, the complainant being none other than the Ministry of Interior, considered an “institution of sovereignty”, one through which the state traditionally projects its authority.

To illustrate this state of affairs, we refer the reader to an August 2014 Texas Federal court ruling that refused to enforce a judgment from a Moroccan court.

The American court justified its decision not to recognize the Moroccan court judgement on the grounds that it was “rendered under a system which does not provide procedures compatible with the requirements of due process of law.”

A 2010 USAID report cited by the same court ruling further paints a picture of “a judicial system in which judges feel tremendous pressure to render judgments that comply with the wishes of the [State].”

A pattern of character assassination

Recent cases also reveal a worrying pattern in the government’s attitude towards political dissidence. It would target independent journalists, critics or opponents on personal rather than political grounds so as to avoid attracting international attention, and attempt to destroy their reputation.

The cases listed below illustrate this state of affairs.

1- The case of Hicham Mansouri:

On March 30, 2015, Hicham Mansouri, was arrested at his house in Rabat by police in plainclothes. Police blasted Hicham’s front door open before they stripped him naked and paraded him in the street. Hicham was later convicted to prison on “adultery” charges.

Hicham is an investigative journalist who, at the time of his arrest was -of his own admission- investigating electronic surveillance practices in Morocco. His arrest and subsequent trial were condemned by observers and rights groups as political and unfair.

Despite an international outcry, and his case being discussed at the European parliament, Hicham was condemned to 10 months in jail. Hicham communicated from inside prison about the harsh conditions of his detention. His appeals were systematically rejected. Hicham completed his sentence and was released on January 17, 2016.

You can read more about Hicham’s case in the following links (some links are in French):

 

2- The case of Ali Anouzla:

Ali Anouzla is a Moroccan independent journalist. Since December 2010 he has been the editor-in-chief of the online media platform Lakome, which he co-founded along with Aboubakr Jamai a renowned investigative journalist.

On 17 September 2013, Ali Anouzla was arrested on terrorism charges in a raid against his home in Rabat, officially for posting on his website a link to a video allegedly by a terrorist organisation. He was charged with “knowingly providing material assistance to terrorists acts” and his website was blocked in Morocco ever since. The reputation of Anouzla was attacked on media outlets close to the government.

For more on Ali Anouzla’s case, follow the links below:

 

3- The case of Zakaria Moumni:

Zakaria Moumni is a former boxer, and the 1999 world champion in Kickboxing. Moumni was vocal on the internet against the government. Moumni was arbitrarily detained by the Moroccan authorities between September 2010 and February 2012. According to Moumni he was kidnapped in September 2010 upon his arrival at the Rabat–Salé airport. He was then blindfolded and taken to a place he’d later identify as the Temara interrogation centre. He was allegedly beaten and tortured for several days. He was then tried on frivolous charges and convicted of “fraud” based on the testimony of two people he’d never seen. He was then taken to Zaki prison in Salé where he remained until February 2012 when he was released after being issued a royal pardon.

For more on Zakaria Moumni’s case, follow the links below:

 

4- The case of Wafae Charaf

On April 2014, Wafae Charaf, a 26-year old left-wing political activist and member of the pro-democracy February 20 Movement, filed a complaint with judicial authorities in the city of Tangier, reporting being abducted and tortured by policemen for several hours. She said they beat her and threatened her with further violence if she did not stop her activism.

But on 8 July, 2014, before the investigation was concluded, Wafae Charaf was arrested, detained and charged with falsely reporting an offence and slander. After more than a month in pre-trial detention, she was convicted on all counts. A defence lawyer stated that the court refused to summon key witnesses.

Wafae’s sentencing came only weeks after a similar conviction against another activist, 22-year old Oussama Housne, sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for an alleged false torture report.

Rights groups, including Amnesty International, condemned those convictions. Amnesty deplored: “These convictions will only strengthen the culture of impunity in Morocco. Torture will only be eradicated once victims can safely break the silence and perpetrators are brought to justice”.

For more on Wafae’s and Housne’s cases follow the links below:

 

5- The case of Mouad el Haqed

Mouad Belghouat, better known for his stage name L7a9d or El Haqed, is a Moroccan rapper and human rights activist, one of the most prominent members of the February 20 Movement, most famous for his songs critical of the government. He rose to prominence in Sept. 2011 when he was imprisoned and sentenced to two years in jail after an altercation with a so-called “monarchist”.

In February 2014, the police raided a library where he was holding a press conference in which he intended to present a new album.

In May 2014, L7a9d was arrested and sentenced to one year in jail, this time on charges of selling football tickets in the black market, an accusation which he denied.

In September 2014 he was nominated for the Sakharov Prize. He is the winner of the 2015 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Award for Arts.

Rights groups have condemned the constant harassment of Mouad as revenge for his political songs.

For more on Mouad:

A pattern of abuse against political opponents

In addition of these examples of systematic miscarriages of justice, many observers have pointed to countless cases of abuse perpetrated against political opponents.

Amnesty International has compiled countless cases of torture perpetrated against political prisoners in Morocco. In a report published on May 19, 2015, titled “Morocco: Shadow of impunity”, Amnesty describes beatings, stress positions, psychological and sexual violence among an array of techniques used to silence dissent.

The release in December 2014 of the United States Senate report on torture has revealed how Morocco has been using secret facilities run by the Ministry of Interior, to terrorize political opponents.  

A systematic crackdown on independent press and independent civil society groups

Authorities have systematically targeted the independent media, putting pressure on the press to ensure that “sensitive” subjects are not covered in a free and independent manner.

Officials also continue to arbitrarily prevent or impede many associations from obtaining legal registration although the 2011 constitution guarantees freedom of association.

The clampdown on civil society organisations and international NGOs seems to have increased in recent months, confirming the determination of the authorities to prevent legitimate human rights research. On June 11, 2015, Morocco expelled Amnesty International’s staff members who were investigating allegations of human rights violations against sub saharan migrants and refugees. One of the staff members was expelled officially on the ground that he constituted “a threat to public order” and was barred from re-entering the country.

More on the attack on freedom of the press and the freedom of assembly in Morocco in the following reports:

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