HRW calls on Morocco to release jailed activists

HRW calls on Morocco to release jailed activists

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[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Monday urged Morocco to release five prisoners [press release] who were allegedly convicted based on false confessions obtained through torture. Six activists were convicted last week in Casablanca for assaulting and insulting police officers during anti-monarchy protests held in July. When released from police custody, the group stated that they had been tortured until they signed false confessions, which were then used as the only evidence against them. None of the officers the group allegedly attacked testified, nor were they present at the hearing.

The five male defendants steadfastly denied the contents of their “confessions” made before the police. Four said they signed them under torture; Kartachi had refused to sign his, explaining at the trial that he had refused to sign because the police had never interrogated him about the events of that evening. Nassimi told Human Rights Watch that she signed her statement without reading it because she did not have her glasses, and learned only later that in it she had confessed to biting and hitting a police officer, a statement she denies making and that she denied in court. The case file included written statements by police officers that they had been injured while dispersing the demonstration, with medical reports to support their claims. However, the officers in these reports did not identify the individuals who they say assaulted them, except for the officer who accused Nassimi of biting him, Messaoudi and Bendjelloun said.

The defense also had three witnesses testify on their behalf that an assault never took place. Leila Nassimi, the female defendant in the group, was given a suspended sentence, while her five male cohorts were sentenced to at least eight months in prison. All six were fined. They plan to appeal.

By law a judge cannot admit a statement made under coercion, but judges in Morocco have had difficulty maintaining independence from the other branches of government. In May a group of Moroccan judges signed a petition urging judicial independence [JURIST report] from Morocco’s monarchy and parliament. Despite constitutional reforms to weaken the monarchy’s power over the government, Moroccans continue to question [JURIST reports] the amount the monarchy controls the other branches.