Annual Report: Morocco/Western Sahara 2011

May 28, 2011

Annual Report: Morocco/Western Sahara 2011

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By the end of 2010, the authorities had still not taken any concrete measures to implement recommendations for judicial and institutional reform made by the Equity and Reconciliation Commission, including reform of the judiciary and security forces. The EU provided 20 million euros to assist the government to introduce legal reforms and 8 million euros towards preserving the memory and archives of the gross human rights violations between 1956 and 1999.

Freedom of expression

Human rights defenders, journalists and others were penalized for commenting on issues that the authorities considered politically sensitive, including the monarchy, and for criticizing state officials or institutions.

  • Taoufik Bouachrine, a journalist and publisher of the daily Akhbar al-Youm Al-Maghribya newspaper, was sentenced to six months' imprisonment and a fine on 10 June after he was convicted of fraud by the Court of First Instance of Rabat. He appealed. He had previously been acquitted in 2009 but the case was reopened by the prosecuting authorities, possibly for political reasons on account of his writings criticizing the monarchy and the government.
  • Chekib El Khiari, a human rights defender and a journalist, continued serving a three-year prison sentence. He was convicted in June 2009 on charges of undermining or insulting public institutions after he alleged that high-ranking state officials were involved in drug trafficking and corruption.
  • Kaddour Terhzaz, a 73-year-old retired senior military officer, remained in solitary confinement at Salé Prison serving a 12-year sentence imposed for "divulging military secrets". He had written a letter to the King to ask that better provision be made for former air force pilots previously held captive by the Polisario Front; in the letter he had criticized the leadership of Morocco's armed forces.

Attacks on independent media continued. In July, the Minister of Communication declared that all TV networks must obtain official authorization before undertaking assignments outside the capital - a stipulation that appeared intended to curtail freedom of expression and restrict media coverage of social protests.

In July, the independent weekly Nichane was forced to cease publication, reportedly due to loss of income. It was subject to an advertising boycott after it published an opinion poll about the King in August 2009.

In October, the Ministry of Communication suspended the Al Jazeera bureau in Rabat after it accused the station of damaging "the image of Morocco and its superior interests, notably the issue of territorial integrity" in reference to the status of Western Sahara.

In November, the authorities were reported to have prevented several Moroccan and foreign journalists from travelling to Laayoune to report on events related to the forced removal of Sahrawis from the protest camp.

Repression of dissent - Sahrawi activists

The authorities continued to restrict the peaceful exercise of freedom of expression, association and assembly by Sahrawis advocating self-determination for the people of Western Sahara. Sahrawi human rights defenders and activists faced harassment, surveillance by security officials and politically motivated prosecutions. Sahrawi human rights organizations continued to be blocked from obtaining official registration.

  • Ahmed Alansari, Brahim Dahane and Ali Salem Tamek continued to be detained, although four other Sahrawi activists arrested with them in October 2009 were freed pending trial. The seven, who were arrested on their return from Algeria after visiting the Tindouf camps administered by the Polisario Front, were charged with "undermining internal security". Their case was sent to the Permanent Military Court but then referred back to a regular court. The trial began before a Casablanca court on 15 October and was continuing at the end of 2010.

Torture and other ill-treatment

There were new reports of torture and other ill-treatment, notably by the Directorate for Surveillance of the Territory (DST) and, in some instances, the National Brigade of the Judicial Police, in most cases apparently committed with impunity. The most frequently reported methods included beatings, electric shocks and threats of rape. The victims included security suspects held by the DST and other criminal suspects.