Morocco: Detained torture survivor on hunger strike two years after UN body calls for his release
The Moroccan authorities must implement the UN body’s decision, protect Ali Aarrass from further abuse while he remains imprisoned, and ensure he has effective access to justice, Amnesty International said. Ali Aarrass went on hunger strike on 25 August in Salé II Local Prison near Morocco’s capital Rabat two years after the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s (WGAD) called on the Moroccan authorities to release him. He is severely weakened and struggles to stand, his family told Amnesty International.
Ali Aarrass also entered the hunger strike to protest 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, as well as the lack of response by the Court of Cassation nearly three years after he appealed his conviction to Morocco’s supreme judicial authority.
The Moroccan-Belgian dual national is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence after a terrorism court convicted him of participating in and procuring arms for a criminal group known as the “Belliraj network”. The conviction relied on a confession which he said was obtained through torture.
Ali Aarrass told his family that the head guard in his block has been preventing him from access to the prison doctor and personal hygiene products and that he taunted him by having a meal delivered to his cell during his hunger strike. Other detainees are said to have gone on a 48-hour hunger strike to protest similar treatment by the same guard.
On 21 May 2014, Morocco’s judicial authorities had announced they were conducting an investigation into his allegation that he was tortured for 10 days after his arrival in Morocco while detained in an intelligence-run secret detention centre in Temara near Rabat. The decision came two days after the UN Committee against Torture found Morocco in breach of the Convention against Torture in relation to Ali Aarrass. It was highly significant because the authorities have regularly denied the existence of the secret prison, where dozens said they were detained incommunicado and tortured there between 2003 and 2011. Evidence suggests some may have been detained, interrogated and tortured in Morocco under the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program.
However, the investigation appears to have stalled nearly one year after Ali Aarrass underwent a series of medical examinations ordered by the court. His lawyers have yet to receive the medical examination report. He had already undergone a medical examination in the context of an earlier investigation in 2011, which concluded that he had not been tortured and which international experts later said was botched. The following year, an independent forensic expert examined him in the presence of UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment Juan Mendez, who later stated that Ali Aarrass bore signs consistent with his torture allegation.
Ali Aarrass remains detained in spite of the WGAD’s call for his immediate and unconditional release and adequate compensation after it found that he was convicted following an unfair trial based on a torture-tainted “confession.” He entered his hunger strike on the second anniversary of the decision by the UN human rights body.
Ali Aarrass has been detained in Morocco since his forcible return from Spain on 14 December 2010. He was returned despite a provisional measure issued by the UN Human Rights Committee against the extradition and a plea by Amnesty International not to extradite him due to risks of incommunicado detention, torture and unfair trial in Morocco. The Committee later found that Spain had breached its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by extraditing him. In 2015, the Committee against Torture also expressed concern about the extradition and called on Spain to investigate his torture.
One year ago, Amnesty International delivered a global petition featuring 216, 500 signatures to Morocco’s Minister of Justice and Liberties calling on the authorities to investigate Ali Aarrass’ torture and implement the WGAD’s decision, as part of Amnesty International’s Stop Torture global campaign. Before joining the government, the Minister was a lawyer defending victims of human rights violations including detainees who alleged they were detained incommunicado and tortured in the Temara detention centre. The Moroccan authorities made a positive step by setting up the investigation, but 16 months on it appears to have stalled. The authorities should ensure the investigation continues without obstruction or delay.
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