Photos : actions devant l’ambassade espagnole à Bruxelles et à Londres contre l’extradition d’Ali Aarrass, novembre 2010
Nous publions un article du journal espagnol El Pais du 29 avril 2013 (en espagnol et en anglais, grâce à la traduction du Ali Aarrass London Support Committee) sur la condamnation de l’Espagne par le Comité européen pour le prévention de la Torture (CPT) pour son refus d’examiner les plaintes sur la torture, commise par la Guardia Civil. Ce rapport a été réalisé suite à la visite du CPT des prisons et bureaux de police espagnols en 2011. Dans le rapport le Comité dit aussi qu’il s’est plaint depuis deux décennies auprès de l’Espagne pour son traitement des personnes accusées de terrorisme, sans que ça change.
Le 1 avril 2008, Ali avait été arrêté à Melilla à la demande du Maroc dans le cadre du démantèlement d’une organisation terroriste au Maroc, le réseau dit Belliraj. Dès le premier jour et jusqu’à aujourd’hui, Ali maintient son innocence. En Espagne, Ali a été mis en prison en isolement total. Sur le calvaire qu’il a vécu en isolement dans les prisons espagnoles, Ali a confié à sa sœur Farida : « J’ai toujours des sursauts si quelqu’un apparaît derrière moi, je fais trop souvent des cauchemars qui me font mal et les moments d’angoisse s’intensifient de temps à autre. C’est horrible ! Insupportable ! Cela ne devrait pas exister. Tu ne peux communiquer avec personne, tu ne peux t’adresser à personne, tu n’as jamais quelqu’un avec qui échanger le moindre mot. C’est le silence complet. Les minutes se transforment en heures très longues, les journées semblent être des éternités. On ne peut pas vivre dans la solitude, sans pouvoir discuter avec quelqu’un. La voix perd sa force, tes cordes vocales perdent l’habitude d’émettre des sons. Tu es à la recherche du moindre son externe et pourtant rien ne s’entend comme bruit…Oui même quand tu essaies de prononcer quelques mots, syllabes, tu n’y arrives plus, car comme tu ne parles jamais, tu as beau essayer de parler, ta voix s’estompe. Je me parlais à moi-même ! Je m’adressais des discours, je me racontais des histoires et me posais même des questions, auxquelles je répondais afin de casser la solitude qui au bout d’un moment devient on ne peut plus dure à supporter ! Je me touchais les membres, pour réaliser que j’étais bien là, que j’étais bien vivant, que j’étais bien un humain malgré ces conditions de détention inhumaines et surtout gratuites ! J’ai pendant longtemps senti l’envie de me regarder, puisque je n’avais ni miroir ni rien pour m’observer. A un moment, bien après mon extradition au Maroc et après la torture sauvage qu’on m’a infligée, j’ai remarqué, que dans la cellule sombre dans laquelle j’étais, il y avait à un moment déterminé de la journée, un petit rayon de soleil qui traversait la pièce et ne reflétait que sur une dalle qui paraissait brillante mais très sale sur l’un des murs de ce cachot. Je m’empressais donc de nettoyer cette dalle afin de m’en servir comme miroir au moment précis où le soleil venait se poser dessus. Je me suis finalement légèrement aperçu, ce qui me fit le plus grand bien. Même si l’image n’était pas très claire. Me regarder m’a fait prendre conscience que j’étais bien là, que j’existais. »
Le 16 mars 2009, le juge antiterroriste espagnol Baltazar Garzon, après un examen minutieux de son dossier, a prononcé un non-lieu dans l’affaire Ali Aarrass. Mais la demande d’extradition de la part du Maroc ayant été acceptée par la justice espagnole, Ali restait en prison.
Le 19 novembre 2010, le Conseil des ministres espagnol approuvait l’extradition d’Ali Aarrass, bien qu’il avait été innocenté. Par contre, elle refusait l’extradition d’un autre détenu Mohamed El Bay, détenu dans la même affaire mais de nationalité hispano-marocaine, qui sera mis en liberté. Le 26 novembre 2009, le Haut-Commissariat aux Droits de l’Homme de l’ONU avait demandé à l’Espagne de ne pas extrader Ali Aarrass vu le risque de torture. Le 14 décembre 2010, contre toutes les règles diplomatiques internationales, Ali Aarrass a été extradé vers le Maroc.
Pendant les deux ans et demi de sa détention en Espagne, le consul belge en Espagne a toujours refusé de rendre visite à Ali Aarrass. Quand nous avons demandé l’intervention de notre ministre des affaires étrangères Van Ackere auprès de l’Espagne pour se vérifier de la situation d’Ali Aarrass dans les prisons espagnoles et pour empêcher son extradition vers le Maroc, celui-ci a répondu ceci : « Pour ce qui concerne votre question relative à une visite du consul, l’assistance aux Belges détenus à l’étranger ne prévoit pas l’organisation de visites consulaires dans les pays de l’Union européenne. » (Réponse à une interpellation de la députée Zoe Genot le 29 novembre 2010). Mais pourquoi ne pas évoquer le dossier Aarrass avec votre collègue espagnol ?, lui demande Zoé Genot. Et le ministre répond : « Je n’ai pas évoqué le dossier d’extradition avec mon collègue espagnol car il n’est pas d’usage que la Belgique intervienne dans une procédure d’extradition entre pays tiers même lorsque cette dernière concerne un ressortissant national. De plus, j’ai entière confiance dans les garanties que le système judiciaire espagnol offre au niveau des procédures d’extradition et du respect des droits de l’homme. Il prévoit, en effet, des possibilités d’appel et ce, jusqu’au niveau de la Cour européenne des droits de l’homme en cas de non-respect de la Convention européenne des droits de l’homme. Vu ce qui précède, je n’entreprendrai pas de démarche qui pourrait être interprétée par mon collègue espagnol comme une ingérence dans des affaires internes et surtout comme un manque de confiance dans le système judiciaire espagnol. »
Article Reprimenda del Consejo de Europa a España por ignorar denuncias de torturas El País Madrid 29 ABR 2013 : cliquez ici
Article in English :
Council of Europe rebukes Spain for ignoring torture complaints
Organisation calls on the authorities to investigate “the methods” used by the Civil Guard
El País Madrid 29 April 2013
The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture has sent the Spanish government a report running to over 100 pages in which it rebukes the Spanish authorities for failing to investigate complaints of ill-treatment and calls on them to set up “an independent investigation into the methods used by the Civil Guard when holding and questioning individuals who have been detained”.
Following visits to police stations, Civil Guard stations and prisons in Madrid, Barcelona, Cordoba, Alava and Cadiz undertaken during June 2011, the European Committee delegation to Spain drew up a report setting out its conclusions, to be published today. The report records complaints from 10 individuals held in incommunicado detention who claimed that they had been ill-treated by the Civil Guard. The allegations included “kicks and blows with truncheons to the head and body”, and the practice known as “the bag”, where a plastic bag is placed over the head of the individual, who is then forced to perform prolonged physical exercise, “inducing a sensation of asphyxiation”.
In its report the Committee highlights “the need for determined action by the Spanish authorities to address the issue of ill-treatment by members of the Civil Guard in the context of incommunicado detention” and notes that it has been “drawing attention” to “the problem of ill-treatment by the Civil Guard” of persons suspected of terrorist offences for some two decades. It makes the criticism that “the facts found during the 2011 visit indicate that the above-mentioned problems remain unresolved”.
The Committee asks the Spanish authorities to ensure that where a detainee alleges ill-treatment, the judge should immediately order a forensic medical examination to ensure that the allegations “are properly investigated”. It says that it wishes to “receive within three months a full account of action taken to implement” its recommendations.
The Committee notes that the report it issued after a visit to Spain in 2007 referred to the safeguards provided by two judges of the National Court [Audiencia Nacional] to persons held under incommunicado detention. The safeguards involve notifying the family; allowing the individual to be visited by a personal doctor along with a forensic doctor appointed by the investigative judge; and 24-hour video surveillance of the detention areas. During their 2011 visit Committee members found that three of the six investigative judges of the National Court were systematically applying these measures. “However,” the delegation noted, “during the first five months of 2011 all the incommunicado detentions were authorised by a judge who does not apply any of these safeguards; a rather surprising state of affairs”. The Committee recommends that the Spanish authorities take “necessary steps to ensure that the three specific safeguards referred to above [surveillance cameras, personal doctor and notifying the family] are applied vis-à-vis all persons held in incommunicado detention”.
In its report the Committee expresses concern at CCTV recordings showing that “detained persons, while being moved from their cell to the interrogation room, to the doctor’s room or to the toilet, were hooded, and had to walk backwards”. The Committee calls upon the Spanish authorities to ensure that “the hooding of persons who are in police custody should be expressly prohibited”.
Editor’s Note: A French version of this blog is available for download here (Une version française de ce blog est disponible en téléchargement ici) [DOC]
Ali Aarrass is a Belgian-Moroccan citizen currently held in a Moroccan prison, where he is regularly subjected to various forms of inhuman and degrading treatment.
His ordeal began in 2006 when he was arrested for the first time in Spain for smuggling weapons into Morocco. Released on bail, he was arrested for the second time in April 2008 by Spanish authorities, following an international arrest warrant issued by Morocco.
That time, he was accused of being involved in terrorist activities. This accusation was based on a list of suspects provided by Abdelkader Belliraj after being subject to torture. However, after a two-year investigation, the Spanish court found no evidence proving that Ali was guilty. Yet, Moroccan authorities still insisted on his extradition.
In a preliminary decision of the UN Human Rights Committee issued in late 2010, the Committee requested that Spain not extradite Ali before any further consideration was taken on his case because of the high risk that he would be facing torture in Morocco.
Despite a formal recognition of his innocence by the Spanish justice system and a high risk of being subjected to torture if extradited to Morocco, Spain proceeded with his extradition on 14 December 2010.
The feared violation of Ali’s fundamental rights unfortunately immediately occurred. Ali was secretly detained and interrogated under torture by Moroccan police. Therefore, he was not only a victim of torture, but also a victim of a serious violation of his procedural rights.
The use of forced confessions obtained under torture was the only legal basis for his conviction of being involved in terrorist activities.
Ali reported being subjected to torture during his detention by Moroccan police and referred his case to the UN Committee against Torture. Thereafter, the Moroccan authorities ordered a medical examination, which was conducted by three Moroccan doctors. While their assessment did not confirm the allegations of torture, it strongly questioned the credibility of the original medical. Indeed, the medical report does not seem to rely on any standard derived from international law, such as the Istanbul Protocol, the common name for the Manual on Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, an internationally recognised standard for conducting a forensic medical and psychological examination in a torture case.
Facing this situation, Ali’s lawyers — members of a Belgian human rights organisation “Jus Cogens” – called for the IRCT’s support in early 2011, in the context of the project “Forensic Evidence Against Torture” (FEAT).
This liaison between lawyers and an independent medical expert, established by the IRCT, has enabled a thorough and substantial criticism of the three-page Moroccan expertise within a very short time frame. Thus, lawyers have been able to use this “counter-report” before national and international courts.
The forensic expert was selected among the members of the Independent Forensic Expert Group (IFEG) established by the IRCT in 2008. This group is composed of highly-qualified health professionals trained on the medical procedures contained in the Istanbul Protocol.
The forensic expert concluded that the report ordered by the Moroccan Attorney General did not meet the requirements of the Istanbul Protocol. Indeed, he notes that the report only contains very basic information on Ali’s medical state, without bringing any kind of psychological and psychiatric assessment to the analysis.
The expert therefore recommended that a new medical and psychological examination should be conducted in accordance with the Istanbul Protocol and by a doctor experienced in the field of health expertise on victims of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment.
In order to give more weight and credibility to the counter-report issued by the IFEG expert, a second counter-report was carried out by a Moroccan doctor, also member of the IFEG. He confirmed the conclusion of the first international expert stating that the report conducted under the Attorney General’s orders was not in conformity with the Istanbul Protocol.
Yet the submission of forensic expert reports and statements in compliance with the Istanbul Protocol is sometimes simply not enough. It is up to the courts to recognise them as evidence.
The case of Ali Aarrass is an obvious example. Despite the production of two independent expert statements by international independent health professionals, the Moroccan courts effectively ignored allegations of torture at all stages of the trial.
Seeing the bad faith with which Moroccan authorities have been handling the case, Ali’s lawyers are quite pessimistic about the future of the case. Indeed, they are not expecting the justice system to leave the possibility of national authorities recognising the torture suffered during Ali’s first interrogations in Morocco. It is likely that Ali will serve the 12-year sentence, as decided by the appeal court.
Morocco does not seem to respect its international legal obligations, particularly with regard to the Convention against Torture, which the country ratified in 1993. The obligations to investigate and to provide as full means as possible for the rehabilitation of victims are not optional.
Ali Aarrass continues to suffer daily abuse, and inhuman and degrading treatment inside his prison. However, despite the continued threats and actual abuse, he never hesitates to speak out on his situation.
Many organisations, lawyers, family members who support him, and Ali himself, can still hope that the international bodies will eventually recognise the violation of Ali’s fundamental rights and offer him an opportunity for full rehabilitation.
Lalla Joumala Alaoui
Ambassador of his Majesty the King of Morocco
To the Court of St James
EMBASSY OF THE KINGDOM OF MOROCCO
49 Queen’s Gate Gardens
London SW7 5NE
3 December 2012
I write to express my deep concern at the current situation of ALI AARRASS, who remains in the prison of Rabat-Salé pending his appeal to the Cour de Cassation against his unjust conviction. Ever since the visit to him in September by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, following which Mr Mendez reported on the routine use of torture against national security suspects, Mr Aarrass has been subjected to physical and psychological pressure from the prison authorities. His health needs are not being met and his physical and psychological health have as a result deteriorated.
These matters are clearly of grave concern.
I include below for your information a translation of part of the petition which Mr Aarrass’ lawyers have recently sent to the UN Committee Against Torture:
In order to ensure that the applicant can enjoy fully his right to petition the Committee, the applicant respectfully requests the Committee to seek, as a matter of urgency, an assurance from the Moroccan government that he is not subjected to further reprisals and that it takes all necessary measures for his protection.
In this respect the applicant wishes to suggest the following measures to ensure his security and his psychological stability:
– Request the government to permit M. Aarrass access to necessary health care, and in particular, to allow him to consult an opthamologist, a dermatologist, a dentist, a men’s health specialist and a psychiatrist (if possible Dr Benyaich, insofar as he has the applicant’s confidence, which is vital in such a delicate area)
– Request the government to give the applicant access to the results of medical tests performed, in particular blood tests already taken;
– Request the government to transfer M. Aarrass to a penal establishment closer to Melilla, where his nuclear family lives, so as on the one hand to facilitate family visits and to permit monitoring of the applicant’s physical and psychological health with a view to ameliorating it, and on the other hand to remove the applicant from the officials who have imposed pressures on him;
– Request the government to authorise visits from the applicant’s Belgian lawyers, for the same purpose;
– Request the government to authorise the members of the NGO Arab Commission for Human Rights, Mme Violatte Daguerre and/ or M Luk Vervaet to visit the applicant with the same objective, to end the applicant’s isolation;
– Invite the government to notify the applicant’s lawyers of any measures placing the applicant in solitary confinement or any other disciplinary procedure, in order to allow the exercise of rights of defence;
– Request the government to forbid the presence of third parties during interviews between the applicant and his lawyer Me Cohen;
– Request the government to authorise the applicant to correspond freely with his lawyers and eventually, with monitoring, his family, friends and supporters;
– Invite the government to restore to the applicant the items recently confiscated from him.
I wish to associate myself fully with the sentiments expressed in this letter and would respectfully ask that you urge your government to fulfil Mr Aarrass’ very modest requests as set out here.
November 7, 2012 · by Aisha Maniar
One Week in October
In the first week of October, two court cases took place in two different countries in different continents involving different people. Both cases, involving extradition from European countries, nonetheless display some striking similarities in the surrounding circumstances and hint at a worrying new European practice.
On 1st October, the Rabat Court of Appeal in Morocco reduced the conviction of Belgian-Moroccan national Ali Aarrass to 12 years from an initial 15 years on terrorism-related charges, which he claims he confessed to under torture. On 5th October, at the High Court in London, Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan, the Tooting Two, both British citizens, lost their combined decade-long fight against extradition to the United States on charges of alleged support for terrorism. They claim that pre-trial and possible post-trial imprisonment in the US would be tantamount to cruel and degrading treatment.
Ali Aarrass, a 50-year old bookseller from Brussels, was born in the Spanish enclave of Melilla in North Africa in 1962. He moved to Belgium in 1977, aged 15, and obtained Belgian nationality in 1989. He was not involved in any political or religious organisations. In 2005, he returned to Melilla with his family where he ran a café. Suspected of involvement in bombings in Casablanca in 2003, he was arrested for the first time in Melilla in 2006. Released on bail after four days, he was arrested again in April 2008, when the Moroccan authorities requested his extradition on charges of terrorism involvement. He was held in custody in various Spanish jails until he was extradited on 14 December 2010. Following a thorough two-year investigation, in March 2009, Judge Baltazar Garzon, formerly one of Europe’s strictest anti-terrorism judges, found that there were insufficient grounds to implicate him in the attacks. Spain nonetheless acquiesced to the extradition request. Upon arrival, he promptly “disappeared” for 12 days during which he “confessed”; he maintains that he was tortured. This resulted in his conviction in November 2011 on charges of bringing weapons into Morocco and supporting a terrorist network, allegedly run by another Belgian-Moroccan, Abdelkader Belliraj, who was given a life sentence in 2009.
Meanwhile, in London, the ordeal of 38-year old Babar Ahmad, who worked in the IT department at Imperial College, University of London, started even earlier in 2003, in perhaps one of the most extraordinary cases of a miscarriage of justice in recent times. Babar Ahmad was arrested for the first time by anti-terrorism police at his Tooting home in December 2003; during that arrest, he sustained over 73 injuries. In 2009, Babar Ahmad was awarded £60,000 for the attack following admission of it by the police. No apology has been offered. In June 2011, four officers were found not guilty of assault. He was released 6 days later without charge.
In August 2004, he was arrested again pending extradition to the USA. The charges revolve largely around Babar Ahmad’s operation of websites alleged to support terrorist organisations, one of which was briefly hosted in the US, and soliciting funds for terrorist organisations. Although the alleged crimes are reported to have taken place in the United Kingdom, in July 2004, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) did not prosecute “on the basis that there was insufficient evidence in the UK for a successful prosecution”. He was indicted in the US. In May 2005, the senior district judge responsible for extraditions approved the extradition and in November that year, his extradition was ordered by the then Home Secretary Charles Clarke.
His co-accused, the lesser-known Talha Ahsan, was arrested in September 2006 on the same charges. A 33-year old graduate from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Talha Ahsan is an award-winning poet and suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, making him more vulnerable. His extradition was approved by the court in March 2007 and ordered by the Home Secretary in June that year.
Having exhausted all avenues of appeal in the UK, the men took their case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg. The Court stayed the extraditions and in a partial ruling in 2010 ordered the extraditions be stayed once more until it was ascertained that the men would not be subject to inhumane treatment, particularly with respect to the harsh conditions of detention there. In an extraordinary ruling in April 2012, the Court held that extradition to the US would not breach their human rights.
Their cases have attracted considerable attention. In 2011, over 140,000 people signed an e-petition to Prime Minister David Cameron seeking that the two men be tried in the UK. Under current government rules, an e-petition to the prime minister with over 100,000 signatures should lead to a specific debate in parliament on an issue. In the end, the issue was discussed as part of a wider debate disappointing campaigners. The two men have not tried to avoid prosecution: they have always insisted that if there are charges to answer and sufficient evidence to try them, that they be tried in the UK where the offences allegedly took place. To this end, in 2012, businessman Karl Watkins tried to bring a private prosecution against them under the Terrorism Act 2000. This case was dismissed on 4 October, a day before their extradition, for failing “to show a genuine intention to prosecute”. On 6 October both men pleaded not guilty to all charges before a Connecticut court. Since the extradition, there has been no telephone or written communication between the men and their families at all.
Observers at both trials reported the farcical nature of the trials in which the verdicts appeared to be long foregone. In the latter UK trial, it emerged that a US Department of Justice-owned jet plane had arrived from Washington on Tuesday at an air force base to collect the men, the same day the 4-day hearing started. The Independent newspaper also revealed that the Metropolitan Police, all the while claiming there was insufficient evidence to prosecute in the UK, handed evidence over to the FBI on at least nine occasions. This evidence was never seen by the CPS. Instead, European citizens were sent to other countries where the risk of torture and abuse of their right to a fair trial cannot be ruled out.
Torture and Extradition
In Ali Aarrass’ case, torture has been a feature throughout. The lack of evidence leading to the Spanish case against him being dismissed in 2009 was due to his name having been mentioned by a Moroccan prisoner who was tortured; the confession was later retracted. The two had never met and did not know each other. In this terrorist network investigation, more than 1500 people were arrested on suspicion of involvement, many of whom were tortured at Temara Prison, like Ali. In view of Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) October 2010 report on this very subject, concerns expressed by Amnesty International and then the United Nations Human Rights Committee’s (HRC) order to stay the extradition while his case was considered, there is no way that Spain could have been unaware of the risk he faced when it accepted Morocco’s assurances. Furthermore, it could not be unaware of the routine use of torture in Moroccan jails. As well as the horrific torture case involving former Guantánamo Bay prisoner Binyam Mohamed, other extraordinary torture rendition cases related to Morocco had emerged by then. Even Hollywood knew it: Morocco was strongly tipped to be the unnamed country in the 2007 film Rendition. Belgian lawyers for Ali Aarrass are now bringing a case against Spain before the HRC.
The extradition itself was secretive, with his family and lawyers only learning of his removal to Morocco through the press. Upon arrival in Morocco, Ali “disappeared” for 12 days, during which he was held by the police. He emerged bruised and battered, claiming that he had been beaten, subjected to sleep deprivation, injected with chemicals, raped, given electric shocks to his genitals, claims consistent with those made by many other prisoners in Moroccan jails. His Belgian lawyers have also brought a complaint against Morocco for an independent investigation into his torture claims. The Moroccan police, on the other hand, emerged with a signed confession to the charges in Arabic, a language he does not speak or read, evidenced by the need for an interpreter at his hearings. At his first trial, he retracted the confession, saying he had been forced to sign it. He is still subject to abuse in prison.
US prison conditions do not fare much better. In their case before the ECtHR, the Tooting Two argued that their extradition would be incompatible with their human rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, particularly Article 3 (prohibition on torture), as they would most likely be held at the Federal ADX Florence “Supermax” Prison if convicted; both face the possibility of a life sentence there. Described by a former prison officer as a “clean version of hell”, 360 prisoners are held at the administrative maximum facility (ADX), including some of the US’ most notorious convicts, in high-security conditions, tantamount to almost perpetual solitary confinement, sensory deprivation and “extreme isolation”, aimed at breaking prisoners down. This is par for the course in a country that deems torture to be an “enhanced interrogation technique” and in which the solitary confinement of prisoners is routine. One year ago, prisoners at the Pelican Bay Supermax Prison in California, home largely to violent gang members, started a hunger strike over conditions. Some prisoners have been in solitary confinement for over 20 years (the average is 8 at this jail), during which they have no contact with other human beings, including prison staff. This has been described by lawyers and prisoners as a cruel and unusual punishment. The mental health effects on prisoners, including depression, hallucinations, post-traumatic stress disorder and sometimes suicide are currently the subject of litigation with respect to Pelican Bay and ADX Florence. The surprise was the ECtHR ruling in April that such prison conditions would not be in breach of the two men’s human rights. For many campaigners, particularly in the US, it was felt that this politicised decision by the ECtHR gave torture, or at least cruel and degrading treatment, the green light, and international sanction of a harsh and inhumane regime. In spite of the ECtHR’s satisfaction with conditions in the US, following the extraditions, Amnesty International expressed its concerns and dismay at the ruling.
The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez has intervened in both cases. In early October, his office wrote to the British government informing it that the extraditions would be in breach of the UN Convention Against Torture. Mr Mendez said, “I think there is very good arguments that solitary confinement and SAMs (special administrative measures, which impose severe restrictions on communication with other inmates or the outside world) would constitute torture and prevent the UK from extraditing these men.” He described such conditions as “arbitrary” and not “disciplinary”.
Juan Mendez visited Ali Aarrass in prison in Morocco just days before his appeal hearing started in September. He then issued a statement expressing his grave concerns about the use of torture in Moroccan jails, which he described as “systematic”. As a result, Mr Aarrass was threatened by prison staff. A report by Morocco’s official human rights body, the CNDH, last month revealed that most prisoners are subject to “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” without any effective investigations or inspections. At his hearing on 1st October, Ali Aarrass was supposed to be given an opportunity to talk about the torture he had faced. Following the reduction and not overturn of his sentence, Mr Aarrass’ lawyers are now appealing to the supreme administrative court (Court of Cassation) on a number of points of law.
In a forthcoming documentary about her brother, Ali Aarrass, Pour l’Exemple (English working title: Ali Aarrass: The Buck Stops Here), Farida Aarrass describes him as a “bargaining chip” in relations between the three states involved in his ordeal: Morocco, Spain and Belgium. The war on terror has indeed provided fertile ground for the burgeoning trade in human beings in diplomatic and commercial relations. A clear example of this was unearthed by HRW in Libya last year and is being investigated by the Metropolitan Police, concerning Britain’s direct involvement in the extraordinary rendition of Libyan dissidents in 2004. Shortly thereafter, trade relations were resumed with the Gaddafi regime, and attempts were made to deport other dissidents from the UK.
Cables leaked by Wikileaks demonstrate the clear awareness of various states of the torture evidence used in the Belliraj (terrorism ring) trials held in 2009, as well as concerns on how to deal with the abuses of rights and due process cited by lawyers and human rights NGOs. Less than a fortnight after ordering the extradition of the Tooting Two, Home Secretary Theresa May decided not to extradite Gary McKinnon, ending his almost decade-long fight, citing his Asperger’s Syndrome, also suffered by Talha Ahsan, as compromising his human rights and putting him at additional risk; this was ascertained not independently but by her own doctors. Home secretaries are not known for their compassion, as anti-deportation campaigners know too well. Clearly, a deal had been struck in Mr McKinnon’s case – who has suffered considerably – which was not reached in the case of the Tooting Two. The Home Secretary also announced changes, but the not much sought-after repeal, of the Extradition Act 2003. Much has been written about the unfairness in the two decisions in cases with striking similarities. Accused of racism and islamophobia, the test will come later this year when Richard O’Dwyer, not an Asperger’s sufferer, but also facing charges of online US offences committed in the UK, has his extradition hearing.
The United States and its intelligence agencies prefer to rely on their extrajudicial armoury, such as “extraordinary rendition” and fuzzy definitions of terms, such as “enhanced interrogation techniques” for “torture”. European states, on the other hand, continue to deny their involvement in such practices or that they collude in torture in any way. In the same way that the US outsources torture through such practices, European states are choosing to outsource justice in cases that would be problematic vis-à-vis the European Convention on Human Rights, particularly Article 3 (prohibition on torture), Article 5 (right to liberty and security) and Article 6 (right to a fair trial). An extradition involves a lawful “rendition” where a person is lawfully handed over from one state to another. European states are using legal mechanisms, such as extradition, to outsource justice, to states whose lower standards of proof and fair trials allow them to be tried in cases that could never be brought in Europe. This is clear in Ali Aarrass’ case having been thrown out by one of the strictest anti-terrorism judges in Europe. Other mechanisms exist too, such as the arbitrary deprivation of nationality and constraints on dual citizens, including Belgium’s own previous “double peine” regime, stripping dual nationals of their Belgian citizenship if convicted. The dehumanising and isolating effect of the war on terror, accusations of involvement in terrorist activity and the cult of secrecy shrouding “national security” concerns provide a comfortable blanket for governments worldwide. In the case of individuals like Ali Aarrass and the Tooting Two, it is truly the hard work of their families, lawyers and activists, who have refused to let matters go quietly or at all, that have thwarted official attempts to obscure such procedures, that are sometimes illegal, and have dragged the process on for years and beyond where the state parties involved may have liked.
There is something more sinister at play, however, perhaps best evidenced by the fact that a British company, Hiatts, once famous for manufacturing the shackles used to transport slaves across the Atlantic later produced shackles to transport prisoners to Guantánamo Bay. At the macro level, as governments around the world act like organised gangs, wilfully outside of the known confines of the law, enabling show trials and violating the absolute prohibition on the use of torture, and as extraordinary rendition and the war on terror have escalated over the past decade, so have other trades in human beings. At the micro level, this has opened the floodgates to the proliferation of people trafficking most often for domestic slavery and sexual exploitation, and debt bondage: slavery is well and truly alive in the twenty first century. Just a few weeks ago, the BBC reported that slavery, in its various forms is at its highest level ever. Criminal gangs trade in vulnerable people across borders and continents through extraordinary underhand deals in very much the same ways as governments, concealed by a code of silence.
Ali Aarrass, Pour L’Exemple will premiere on Sunday 11 November as part of the 12th Mediterranean Film Festival in Brussels. This is Armistice or Remembrance Day. Much has changed in the century since the “great war”: empires have risen and fallen, languages and technologies have evolved but history has a habit of repeating itself, and some stories remain the same.
Premiere of Ali Aarrass, Pour L’Exemple: 12th Mediterranean Film Festival, Sunday 11th November 2012, Rotonde, Brussels, 3pm
Surviving Extradition: With Gary Mulgrew, Hamja Ahsan and Aviva Stahl, Friday 23rd November, 6.45-8.30pm, Abrar House, 45 Crawford Place, London W1H 4LP
Action alert: write to the Foreign Secretary, British Ambassador and your MP
Arrested in Spain in 2008 for weapons related offences linked to terrorism in Morocco, Ali was held in Spanish jails for 2 years until Judge Baltazar Garzon found no grounds to implicate him in such activity. Yet when Morocco demanded his extradition Spain acquiesced, ‘satisfied’ by Morocco’s declaration that he would not be subjected to inhumane treatment nor held without the possibility of parole. The acceptance of these reassurances in itself is extraordinary given that UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez has described the use of torture in Moroccan prisons as “systematic”. That Ali was likely to face such treatment could not have escaped the attention of the Spanish authorities. The Belgian state too is in the dock having turned a blind eye and raised no protest at the illegal treatment of one of its nationals. Immediately following his illegal extradition Ali was held for 8 days incommunicado during which time he was subjected to unspeakable acts of torture by Morocco’s Secret Service, the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST).
Ali reports that he was subjected to sleep deprivation, the injection of chemicals, electric shocks to his genitals, beatings whilst hanging by his feet and rape – ordeals commonly reported by ‘terrorism’ suspects detained in Morocco. During this period of interrogation and alleged torture Ali signed a confession written in Arabic. As demonstrated by the need for a translator during his Appeal, this is a language that Ali does not speak, having been raised in French and Spanish speaking communities. A court in Rabat Salé comprising three judges sentenced Ali to 15 years imprisonment. The forced and false confession was the only evidence produced against him. The prosecution also refers to statements made by three named individuals who allegedly admit to terrorism charges and say that Ali is an ‘associate’ of theirs – but the defence has never seen these statements and do not know if they in fact exist.
In September 2012, to the shock and dismay of his family and an international delegation of lawyers, campaigners and academics, five judges in Rabat Salé’s Court of Appeal upheld Ali’s original conviction, reducing his sentence to 12 years. That this is three years shorter than the original sentence of 15 years is no comfort. There is no evidence that Ali is guilty of the charges that were used to convict him.
Monday, 24th September 2012
Taking their place amongst the other families who await entrance to the prison, Ali’s sister Farida methodically lays six carrier bags along the pavement. They are stuffed with pasta, tea and cooking utensils to help Ali feed himself. He has previously been on hunger strike to protest against his detention, and his family now worry that he is not eating again.
They wait patiently for hours, barely talking. Families wait in all weathers,” says Farida, “in the baking sun, even in winter where the old mothers shake from the cold.” Prison security is low-key but omnipresent; guards watch the road from high vantage points whilst a plain clothed policeman paces the complex’s perimeter.
A security officer emerges to check the Aarrass family ID cards and make his selection. Ali’s mother can enter, as she shares his surname. Farida, however, will have to wait outside. She is initially told that this is due to a problem with her documentation, but once this has been resolved, the prison officer announces that there is a new concern. She has been accompanied to the gates by a group of lawyers and journalists who have taken photos of the entrance, and these must be deleted before she is allowed to enter. But when I offer my own camera, they quickly lose interest and tell her that she will have to wait yet longer for reasons which remain unclear. Throughout this encounter, Farida does her best to keep the atmosphere light-hearted but the smiles quickly vanish. The officer’s strategy of toying with the families can be likened to a perverse game, she says. “Power turns them into cruel comedians.” Eventually she is allowed inside.
The Administrative Court, Rabat-Salé
At 3 o’clock, the family take their seats in the courtroom. Ali enters through a side-door, separated from the audience by a glass partition. Although calm and composed, his pallor belies the toll of ten sleepless months: “When he sleeps he has nightmares,” says Farida, “and when he wakes, he finds that he is still trapped in the same dream.”
At first the proceedings are quiet, largely concentrated around the bar. The judging panel engages little with the three lawyers as they set out their case. Two judges drift in and out of sleep whilst a third reads a book. Standing in the centre of the court, Ali stares at the floor. He is barely present and as others speak for him and equivocate over his fate, the man with the story is the only one without a voice.
The case for appeal is presented over four hours with regular adjournments. When the prosecutor finally stands to deliver a closing summary, the Aarrass legal team grows frustrated, telling the judges that none of their arguments have been addressed. “The prosecutor is simply repeating the findings of the state’s own cursory torture investigation, the findings of which we have made it clear we do not accept. We ask that you make a statement on all the arguments we have put forward today.” The request is initially rejected due to time restraints, but the judges eventually agree to pause the session to give them time to reconsider. When the court re-adjourns a decision is read out: the appeal will continue on Monday. And with that, proceedings end abruptly.
Monday, 30th September 2012
Prison Locale 2, Rabat-Salé
The family is back at the prison, and at around 11am they try to get access to Ali before his trial continues in the afternoon. But this week the guards are not inclined to allow the family to visit – and the family suspects that this is a punishment for the media circus that descended on the prison the previous week. While discussing the refusal with the family, the guard inadvertently shows Farida Ali’s prison ID card, which has a photo of Ali with a burst lip and swollen face. This photo is thought to have been taken by the prison authorities upon Ali’s arrival at the prison and clearly shows that he had been mistreated before being handed over to Prison Locale 2. This photo had previously been presented to the judges but the court copy was of such bad quality that the injuries were not apparent. The family request access again at 11:40am and are refused again at noon. At 1pm, Ali’s French lawyer (based in Belgium at Jus Cogens law firm) is granted access to see Ali and after some time he manages to convince the guards to allow Ali’s family access. After four hours under the hot sun, the family finally disappears behind the large blue door to have a last chat with Ali before his trial continues.
The Administrative Court, Rabat-Salé
Just after 3pm, no less than 10 judges file into court 2. But upon closer inspection, 5 of the judges appear very young and are in fact stagiaires (or interns). The interns spend the afternoon listening to parts of the trial, texting on their phones, staring into space or passing notes to each other while giggling.
Ali sits in a Perspex cage at the back of the court room. He smiles weakly at the supporters sitting in the public gallery. At 3:15pm he is called to the stand – he walks casually to it, looking at his feet and holding a small bottle of water in one hand. Ali is wearing a black shirt with blue vertical stripes and he looks intently at the short, white-haired interpreter who has stationed himself to Ali’s right. His lawyers flank him on either side and the trial begins.
Questioned by the presiding judge (the rest of the judges remain silent throughout the trial) and prosecutor through his translator Ali denies the charges and recounts some of his experience during his 10 days of torture, which was clearly very difficult for the family to hear. The judge, who repeatedly cuts Ali off mid-sentence, replies that the prison has a report that proves there was no torture and Ali offers to show the judge his scarred torso right there and then. The judge declines interest and instead moves on to ask Ali about his arrest in Morocco, clearly showing that he hasn’t fully grasped this case. Ali was never arrested in Morocco – he was extradited to Morocco.
At about 4pm, Ali is allowed to speak at length for the first time but as he recalls how he had been tied to a tree and beaten unconscious the judge cuts him off. The story reduces some in the public gallery to tears. After a few minutes the prosecutor stands up and talks for 20 minutes straight while most of the judges continue to yawn widely, consult their mobiles or sleep – behaviour that was observed throughout the day.
At 4:40pm, the defence begins to present its case and they continue to 7pm at which time the judge asks Ali if he has anything to say. Ali repeats that he does not know the individuals to which he is supposed to be associated with. The judges adjourn and return at 8:45pm to inform Ali that his request for an inquiry into his torture is denied and that he must serve 12 years. No reasons are given, and the trial ends at 8:48pm. Ali is physically escorted from the room, to shouts of support from his family and friends. Just before he is bundled through a small door to the left of the bench he turns his head, smiles and puts his hand in the air to give the peace sign to his supporters. His family are visibly devastated.
How you can help:
To help support Ali Aarrass in his fight for justice you candonate to the Friends of Ali Aarrass (sort code 08-92-99, account number 65583960).