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Students, Activists, and a Former Kickboxing Champ Among Alleged Victims of Torture in Morocco

A new report from Amnesty International accuses Moroccan authorities of routinely subjecting detainees to beatings, stress positions, sexual violence, and other forms of torture.
May 20, 2015, 12:40am
Photo par Abdelhak Senna/AFP/Getty Images

Moroccan authorities routinely use violent interrogation methods despite the government's pledge to eradicate torture, according to a new report from the human rights group Amnesty International.

The 143-page report released Tuesday alleges that detainees in Morocco are frequently subjected to violence, ranging from "beatings and stress positions to asphyxiation and drowning techniques, as well as psychological and sexual violence, including rape threats, and rarely, rape."

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"Morocco's leaders portray the image of a liberal, human rights-friendly country," Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty said in a statement released with the report. "But as long as the threat of torture hangs over detention and dissent, that image will just be a mirage."

In a statement published as an annex to the report, the Moroccan government dismissed the NGO's findings and said they had "no choice but to categorically reject the content of the report."

"The Moroccan authorities believe that the main objective of this memorandum is to bombard the Kingdom [with blame], at the cost of measuring progress and achievements throughout the national territory," the Moroccan statement said. "Despite a few examples of progress highlighted in the introduction, many of the achievements and concrete measures have not been mentioned."

Titled "Shadow of impunity: Torture in Morocco and Western Sahara," the report is part of Amnesty's global Stop Torture campaign, and follows reports on torture in Mexico, the Philippines, Uzbekistan, and Nigeria. In the statement released in conjunction with the report, Amnesty said that instances of "torture and other ill-treatment" were noted in 131 out of 160 countries covered in the group's 2014 annual report on human rights.

Related: Morocco's New Elite Investigative Unit Has Dismantled an Islamic State-Linked Terror Cell

L' «ouverture» n'est pas au RDV au — AIBF (@amnestybe)May 19, 2015

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Based on interviews with 151 men, women, and children, in addition to ongoing monitoring in the country, the report details 173 separate cases of torture and ill treatment that allegedly occurred between 2010 and 2014. According to the report, torture victims include "students, political activists with left-wing or Islamist affiliations and supporters of self-determination for Western Sahara, as well as people suspected of terrorism or ordinary crimes."

The report denounced "a continuum of violence" said to begin with the moment of arrest and extend to interrogation and police custody. The human rights group also noted abuses during medical examinations and court appearances, where claims of torture are often ignored.

'One of them said, 'Throw the dog,' and they threw me off the roof, which was two stories high.'

Student activist Boubker Hadari — one of the witnesses interviewed for the report — described how police officers arrested him and beat him while he was staging a protest on his college rooftop. "They hit me on the head and all over my body with their batons," he told Amnesty. "Then one of them said, 'Throw the dog,' and they threw me off the roof, which was two stories high. I awoke in a pool of blood on the ground, and found them surrounding me, shouting insults, and taking pictures."

The report lists many examples of abuse in police custody, including the highly publicized case of former world kickboxing champion Zakaria Moumni. A French-Moroccan, Moumni claimed that, following his September 2010 arrest in Morocco's capital Rabat, he was tortured for three days, during which he was subjected to beatings, deprived of sleep, forced to stand or kneel, and tied to a chair during an interrogation.

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Moumni was found guilty of fraud within a week of his arrest based on a confession he was coerced into signing under duress. He was later pardoned in 2012, and spoke of his torture before the European parliament in 2014 during a summit organized by Al-Haqiqa, a collective of Moroccan human rights groups.

Related: Trucks and Children Are Sucking the Beaches of Morocco Dry

According to Amnesty's findings, courts in Morocco routinely "turn a blind eye" to complaints of torture, and even hand down "slander" and "false reporting" convictions to those who report abuses. "Prosecutors and judges alike largely failed to investigate reports of torture and other ill-treatment, […] reinforcing impunity," the report states. Even when medical examinations are granted, they are often "sub-standard, losing precious evidence and skewing subsequent decisions not to open investigations into torture allegations."

In 2014, Moumni filed a lawsuit in France accusing the Moroccan authorities of torture, including Morocco's intelligence chief Abdellatif Hammouchi, who was allegedly present during some of the torture sessions. Moumni also filed a lawsuit against Mouni Majidi, King Mohammed VI's private secretary.

As a result of Moumni's lawsuit, Morocco suspended its legal and judicial cooperation agreement with France in 2014. The cooperation resumed in January 2015 when the countries signed an amended agreement allowing for "more efficient cooperation between the legal authorities of the two countries and strengthen exchanges of information."

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Several organizations, including the International Federation for Human Rights, the French Human Rights League, the Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International have voiced concern over France and Morocco's cozy legal relations, and have urged French lawmakers to oppose the amended legal cooperation agreement, which is due to be debated in France's parliament later this month.

The NGOs say that the agreement flouts some of the fundamental principles of justice, including the right to a fair trial, and could affect French nationals tried in Morocco.

On Tuesday, French radio RFI announced that the Paris prosecutor had sent Morocco's legal authorities an "official termination" of Moumni's lawsuit, meaning France has dropped the case and it is now back in the hands of the Moroccan courts.

Related: Are Moroccan Gangsters Being Paid to Beat Up Sub-Saharan Migrants?

Follow Matthieu Jublin on Twitter : @MatthieuJublin