Dear Mr Tobias Ellwood MP,
We are writing to let you know about a new civil trial that will be taking place for the Gdeim Izik Group of 21 Saharawi political prisoners on 26 December 2016. The date, which coincides with the Christmas holidays, has been chosen by the Moroccan government specifically to make it difficult for international observers, the majority of whom are European, to attend. The group were informed individually of the date of this trial on 18 October. However, the date had been set on 27 July, with the government waiting 82 days to inform the prisoners. The group have since been transferred to a different prison and have consistently been the victim of maltreatment and beatings.
On 8 November 2010, clashes took place during the dismantling by the Moroccan security forces of a protest camp in Gdeim Izik, on the outskirts of El Aaiún, where thousands of Saharawis had congregated to demonstrate, making social and economic demands. Eleven officers of the security forces were killed as well as two Saharawis. Hundreds of Saharawis were detained and on 17 February 2013 in a military court in Rabat, 25 were convicted for criminal organising, violently responding to public officials and desecrating a body. 21 are currently serving prison sentences (two of the accused were freed having already been incarcerated for the same amount of time as their final sentence; one was convicted in absentia; and one was given provisional release for health reasons).
The trial was based in large part on ‘confessions’ extracted through torture. Complaints regarding the extraction methods have still not been investigated by the authorities. The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has expressed concern over the lack of investigation into these complaints. The Working Group has also requested that the Moroccan authorities revise the sentences, given that the detainees should not have been tried by a military court.
13 of the 21 prisoners began a hunger strike for 36 days between March and April 2016 demanding their freedom (see our petition: https://adalauk.org/petition/thirteen-saharawi-political-prisoners-began-a-hunger-strike/). On 7 April 2016 the Moroccan authorities expelled a group of Spanish, Belgian and French lawyers and a Spanish judge, who had arrived with the intention of meeting and working together to support the prisoners.
23 of the prisoners appealed against their sentences. It has taken three years for them to receive a response. According to the Moroccan Penal Code, prisoners should receive a response to any such appeal within three months of the date it was filed.
In 2015, Morocco changed its legislation in order to put an end to military trials for civilians, in line with international human rights norms.
We recommend the following actions:
The Morrocan authorities must guarantee that: the trial of the 23 prisoners conforms to international norms and that any ‘confessions’ extracted by torture are not submitted as evidence; the prisoners be released while they await the outcome of the trial if there are no valid reasons for them to remain incarcerated; an independent and impartial investigation is launched into the complaints made by the prisoners of maltreatment and torture. (See also Adala UK report about the treatment of political prisoners: LINK TO REPORT).
The prisoners’ names: Ahmed Sbaïi, Mohamed Bachir Boutanguiza, Sidi Abdallah Abhah, Mohamed Bani, Brahim Ismaïili, Sidahmed Lemjayed, Abdallah Lekhfawni, Abdeljalil Laâroussi, Hassanna Alia, Naâma Asfari, Hassan Dah, Cheikh Banga, Mohamed Bourial, Mohamed Tahlil, Mohamed Lamine Haddi, Abdallah Toubali, Hocine Zaoui, Daich Daf, Mohamed Embarek Lefkir, Mohamed Khouna Babeit, Larbi Elbakai, Mohamed el- Ayoubi y Bachir Khadda