By Jihane Bergaoui, Amnesty International USA Country Specialist for Morocco and Western Sahara
In December 2010, Ali Aarrass, a Belgian-Moroccan coffee shop owner was extradited from Spain to Morocco, where Moroccan intelligence held him in a secret prison for 12 days in Témara, near the capital city of Rabat.
Ali described the anguish his muscles and joints experienced while he was suspended from his wrists for extended periods of time, the searing pain of feeling his flesh being burned by cigarettes, enduring excruciating electric shocks to his testicles, having his head held under water until he fainted, being raped with a glass bottle, and having the soles of his feet beaten raw. He remained in the secret holding facility until he signed a “confession” pre-written for him in Arabic – a language he does not speak.
Ali was then formally arrested by the Moroccan authorities and transferred to Salé II prison. The other inmates expressed shock at the scars of torture on Ali’s body, as well as his traumatized state of mind when he arrived.
He was convicted in November 2011 for allegedly aiding and participating in a criminal gang and a group intending on committing acts of terrorism. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison, which was later reduced to 12 years after appeal. The “confession” he gave under torture – which he recanted in court, was reportedly the only evidence presented against him during his trial.
Ali remains in Salé II prison today. He has detailed continued ill-treatment by members of the prison administration including sleep deprivation, and being forced to strip naked in his cell.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture visited him in prison with an independent forensic doctor in September 2012. Both confirmed detecting signs of torture compatible with his testimony. The U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions (UN WGAD) also called for Ali’s release in 2013.
Although Moroccan legislation prohibits torture and ill treatment, including under Article 22 of the newly adopted constitution since 2011, reports of torture such as Ali’s continue to emerge. But instead of properly investigating these accusations, the Moroccan authorities are prosecuting and jailing some individuals for speaking out about torture.
Human rights and political activist Wafae Charaf was recently fined and sentenced to a year in prison on August 12, 2014, after reporting that she had been abducted by unknown men, who assaulted her repeatedly and threatened her with further violence if she continued her activism.
On July 23, 2014, Oussama Housne was also sentenced to three years of imprisonment after he reported being abducted by unknown individuals who burned him with a heated metal rod and raped him, as he was leaving a protest.
Imprisoning individuals for reporting this grave human rights abuse will only make it harder for survivors of torture to speak out and access justice. The Moroccan government must immediately release these two activists and implement essential safeguards against torture.
The Moroccan authorities must end secret and unacknowledged incarceration by keeping a centralized and unified register of prisoners accessible to their families, friends, lawyers, and government officials at all times.
They must also set up video recording and require the presence of defense lawyers during police interrogations in pre-arraignment detention, when detainees are most at risk of torture.
You can take action now by signing our online petition to Mustapha Ramid, Morocco’s Minister of Justice, to demand the release of Ali Aarrass and the implementation of mechanisms against torture in Morocco and the Western Sahara.