14 December 2015 marked the fifth anniversary of Ali’s unlawful extradition by Spain to Morocco. The date was marked by Amnesty International (Belgium) handing in a 10,000-signature petition to the Moroccan ambassador to Belgium, and also by a broadcast on RiveWest a webradio run by residents of the Molenbeek district of Brussels (see Liz Fekete’s article on policing and media coverage of the district here).
Members of the campaign to free Ali gathered the following day, 15 December, outside the Radisson Hotel, where Belgian foreign minister Didier Reynders was being wined and dined by the US Chamber of Commerce, to show Reynders the meal given to prisoners in Sale II, the notorious prison where Ali is held, and to demand that Belgium comply with the court order to give Ali consular assistance. Supporters kept up the pressure in the new year, with a picket of another expensive dinner attended by Reynders on 6 January. (The Free Ali website has details.)
Meanwhile, Amnesty International UK is asking its supporters to write to their MEPs this month or next about disrespect of human rights in Morocco, with a particular focus on Ali’s case and that of Wafae Charaf and Oussama Housne. They have asked whether Ali’s supporters in the UK can do the same. I circulate their appeal below.
If you can do so, ask your MEP to write to the Mission of the Kingdom of Morocco to the European Union expressing your concern. You could even ask for a meeting with your MEP to discuss it. You can find your MEP by going to www.europarl.org.uk/en/ your-meps.html. Click on your geographical region and this will then take you to a list of the MEPs for that region with their contact details. Please particularly target MEPs who are on the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs committees.
In order that you can brief your MEP, the details of the cases are set out below. (In Ali’s case you may recall much of what follows but a reminder may be useful.)
Ali Aarrass is a 53-year-old Belgian-Moroccan national who used to run a bookshop in Brussels and later a cafe in Melilla. On 14th December 2010, the Spanish authorities extradited Ali to Morocco, where (despite being a citizen) he had never lived. The extradition was in breach of a stay requested by the UN Human Rights Committee and ignored warnings from Ali’s family, lawyers and supporters and from Amnesty International that Ali would be at risk of incommunicado detention, torture and unfair trial.
In Morocco, Ali was held incommunicado for 12 days and brutally tortured in a secret detention centre run by the General Directorate for the Surveillance of the Territory (Direction generale de la surveillance du territoire, DST) in Temara. He was beaten on the soles of his feet, given electric shocks to his testicles, suspended from his wrists and burned with cigarettes. On 19th November 2011, solely on the basis of a « confession » extracted under torture (and written in Arabic, a language he does not understand), he was convicted of participating in and procuring arms for a criminal group known as the « Belliraj Network ». He was sentenced to 15 years in prison which was reduced to 12 years on appeal. Ali has always maintained his innocence.
In September 2012, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, and an independent forensic doctor, visited Ali in detention and confirmed his torture claims.
In July 2014, the UN Human Rights Committee condemned Spain for its extradition of Ali. The Committee found as a fact that Ali had been tortured, and that the Spanish authorities had not properly assessed the risk of torture before extraditing him. They said that Spain’s treatment of Ali violated Article 7 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, which bans exposure to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment. Spain was asked to award Ali adequate compensation and to take all possible measures to work with the Moroccan authorities to ensure that he was well treated. In 2015, the Committee Against Torture also expressed concern about the extradition and called on Spain to investigate Ali’s torture allegations.
In January 2014, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention named Ali as someone who had been convicted solely on the basis of torture evidence and called on the Moroccan authorities to reform the penal code to prevent reliance on such evidence. It asked for Ali’s immediate release with compensation for his detention.
In February 2014, the Brussels High Court ruled that the Belgian authorities are under a duty to provide Ali with consular assistance. Their ruling was upheld by the Belgian Court of Appeal on 9 September 2014, and the Belgian authorities are appealing this decision before the Court of Cassation.
On 19th May 2014 the UN Committee Against Torture found that the Moroccan authorities violated several articles of the Convention Against Torture with regard to Ali and called on them to investigate and report to the Committee within 90 days. Ali had two meetings with an Investigative Judge and in November 2014 he underwent a medical examination over several days without an independent monitor present. Ali’s lawyers have yet to receive the report of his medical examination, and have said that they were not aware that any witnesses were questioned or that any locations identified by Ali were searched.
Ali has undertaken several hunger and/ or thirst strikes, coming close to death on occasions and permanently impairing his health, in protest against his continuing imprisonment and the reprisals and ill-treatment he has suffered in Sale II prison for publicising his case. Most recently, in August 2015 Ali went on hunger strike to protest about fresh improper treatment by the head guard in his prison block, significant delays in the investigation carried out by the judicial authorities into his torture allegations, and the failure of the Court of Cassation, Morocco’s highest court, to list his appeal, nearly three years after his appeal against conviction was lodged. On 29 September 2015, he said that several men came to search his cell, without identifying themselves, although some were wearing green uniforms and others civilian clothes. They threw him to the floor, causing him severe pain, and kicked him and shouted at him when he asked to see a doctor. He said that they filmed the search, which lasted over two hours, and destroyed his personal belongings off-camera. His family believe that this was in retaliation for Ali having reported being tortured in 2010, as well as the international public campaign calling for his release.
Ali suspended his hunger strike on 4th November 2015 as his health was failing. Amnesty International heard in November 2015 that the investigation into Ali’s allegations of torture had been closed. Ali’s lawyers were informed of the decision as they attempted to bring a civil action and were told that this was not possible, because the investigation had been closed. They have had no access to the decision but understand that the case was dismissed.
Our calls are: that the Moroccan authorities must ensure that Ali is protected from further ill-treatment and is treated humanely; that they must order a prompt, independent and impartial investigation into the ill-treatment that Ali suffered on 29 September, and hold those responsible to account; and must implement the decision of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, ie, release Ali immediately and give him adequate compensation.
Wafae Charaf (28) and Oussama Housne (23) are both considered by Amnesty International to be prisoners of conscience and AI is campaigning for their release. Wafae and Oussama are currently imprisoned in separate prisons in Morocco on charges of slander and false allegations of torture. Wafae reported to Amnesty International that she was abducted after attending a workers protest in Tangiers, Morocco in April 2014, where she was tortured by a group of men who threatened further violence if she continued with her activism.
After filing a report with the authorities an investigation was launched, however, rather than the perpetrators being arrested Wafae ended up in prison charged with “falsely reporting torture.” On August 12, 2014 she was sentenced to a year in prison and ordered to pay a fine of 1,000 Moroccan Dirhams (66 GBP) for slander and “falsely reporting torture” and to pay an additional 50,000 Dirham (3,330 GBP) to the Moroccan police department for slander, even though she never named the department in her accusations. Since her initial trial, and during the appeal process, Wafae’s sentence has been increased by a further year.
In a mirroring case, Oussama House was abducted after leaving a protest in May of 2014 where he was tortured by a group of men via burning with a heated metal rod and raping him with their fingers. Oussama publicised this incident on his YouTube channel with the goal of having the Moroccan authorities investigate his abuse. However, he was subsequently arrested after they claimed his allegations were not truthful and he had lied about his torture.
On the 23rd of July Oussama, like Wafae, was imprisoned on charges of “falsely reporting torture” and slander, however, he was handed a three year sentence. Oussama was also ordered to pay 100,000 Dirham (6,660 GBP) to the Moroccan police for slander, even though again like Wafae, he had never named the police in any of his allegations.