Decision to postpone trial of Saharawi activists represents a new stain on the Moroccan judiciary

img_0825-5On July 27, Morocco’s High Court nullified the unfair sentences previously issued by the military court to 24 Saharawi activists. They face false charges for which they will potentially face very long sentences.

On Monday 26 December, a court in Salé (Morocco) postponed the trial of all 24 – known as the ‘Gdeim Izik Group’ – until 23 January 2017. The reason given for the deferment was that two of the accused – Mohamed Ayoubi, who is now on conditional release, and Hasana Alía, who was granted asylum in Spain – did not attend the trial.
A number of observers, lawyers, jurists and human rights activists attended the trial. Upon entering, the prisoners were put in an enclosed area surrounded by glass and without microphones or speakers, which made it impossible for them to follow what was being said in the court room. For over six hours the court heard the prosecution’s lawyers and the defendants were not heard.

Two French lawyers were allowed to join the defendants because of an agreement between France and Morocco. They focused on the violation of international law with regards undertaking effective and independent investigations about mistreatment and torture. They also described how torture is used in police stations and military police stations during the detention period in order to obtain confessions that are used as evidence against the accused at the trial. A decision of the United Nations Committee Against Torture, which highlighted that one of the political prisoners was tortured, was cited as proof (see resolution).

One member of Adala UK confirmed that there were many irregularities and examples of ineptitude during the legal proceedings. He explained that “the tribunal did not show any interest in examining the confessions acquired through mistreatment and torture, which motivated the legal proceedings. They also lack the power to acquit the accused of the charges that are currently held against them. Nevertheless, it concluded that the new civil tribunal which denied the conditional release of the accused and ordered their re-incarceration, did not properly follow the established legal procedures.”

During the trial, relatives of the defendants, activists and other Saharawis from cities throughout Western Sahara and Morocco were barred from entering the court room. “Democracy does not exist in this country. Does democracy mean preventing the accused’s relatives from attending the trial? These mothers and sisters of the accused have traveled over 1000km to be present at the trial”, activist Mohamed Almotawakil stated. “Here there are human rights activists that want to observe the trial, but they were denied entry, which explains that this will not be a fair trial”, added Mohamed (watch the video of his testimony here:

Relatives of the accused, human rights activists and hundreds of people coming from the Occupied Territories of Western Sahara and some Moroccan cities protested in front of the court in Salé to demand justice and the prisoners’ immediate release (watch video).

It appears that the Moroccan authorities have made full use of official media to mobilise public opinion in Morocco, where hundreds of people gathered to stop the demonstration using racist and humiliating terms against the Saharawis. A huge deployment of security forces also made it impossible for the demonstrators to feel safe. “Today we were attacked by Moroccan civilians in front of the Moroccan forces to prevent us from protesting to demand justice for the accused, and the Moroccan authorities did nothing to stop the attack. It seems it is all very coordinated”, explained a relative of the accused (see testimony

Adala UK believes that these 24 men should never have been imprisoned in the first place and they must not spend a single day further in prison. Instead of detaining them until the new trial takes place, the 24 accused must be released immediately.

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