Jailed Morocco Islamists on hunger strike

2012-05-16 11:57

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Rabat - Islamists who say they are being unfairly held in Moroccan prisons are staging hunger strikes to put more pressure on the new government to release them, according to campaigners who are in contact with the prisoners.

Letters sent from jail by the inmates and shown to Reuters by their supporters, describe a series of protests by prisoners, followed by punishments by their gaolers that include force feeding and torture.

Officials in the north African kingdom deny torturing or mistreating the prisoners, saying that this was a lie by inmates to try to attract attention to their cases.

But the accounts from inside jails show that, even after 12 years of King Mohammed VI's reformist rule and a fresh burst of reforms after last year's "Arab Spring" that were lauded by Western governments, Morocco has yet to follow through fully on promises to clean up its justice system.

A hand-written letter sent by a group of Islamist inmates in Toulal 2 prison, near Meknes in northern Morocco, described the state of health of the hunger strikers. Reuters has seen a copy of the letter.

"Noureddine Jarrar, Abderrahim Barazani, Abdessamad Battar ... are vomiting blood," said the letter, which was dated 12 May 2012.

"Mohamed Chetaibi ... fainted. Ismael Belamara fainted too because he is diabetic. Mustapha Sefiani tried several times to commit suicide by hanging himself, and the prison administration punished him by tying his hands and feet and leaving him next to a pile of rubbish."

A source in the Moroccan prisons administration, who did not want to be identified, denied that inmates were on hunger strike or that there was any abuse of prisoners.

"The Islamist prisoners are trying to raise attention by lying," said the source.

Militant violence

"Our prisons are in compliance with international standards [and] have all necessary conditions, food, medicine," he said. "There is no torture... the prisons are visited by the regional committee [of non-governmental organisation representatives], prosecutors, human rights activists."

"I ask anyone who is complaining about torture to go to the judicial authorities," he said. "If we find anyone involved in torture, he will be expelled [from the prison service]."

The issue is not a new one. After a series of coordinated suicide bombings in Morocco's commercial capital, Casablanca, in 2003, security forces rounded up hundreds of people they suspected of belonging to militant Islamist groups.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said many of them were convicted in unfair trials, often after secret detention and torture.

The king himself, in a 2005 interview with the Spanish-language newspaper El Pais, admitted abuses had taken place in the crackdown that followed the Casablanca bombings.

The "Arab Spring" revolts in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya last year gave the Islamist prisoners hope they could be freed.

Under pressure from huge protests, the authorities enacted reforms. A moderate Islamist who used to be in opposition took over as prime minister with a promise to end corruption and improve human rights.

Yet since then, only three senior Islamists have been released, and the justice minister told Reuters in an interview that freeing more would be difficult.

Groups lobbying for the jailed Islamists say the authorities agreed last year to improve conditions for Islamist detainees and review their cases, but have now backed out of this undertaking. Officials deny any such deal exists.

Miserable

Anas Haloui of the Joint Committee for Defending Islamist Prisoners, an NGO, said that the hunger strikes started on 09 April in the Toulal 2 prison and then spread to jails in Sale and Kenitra, both near the capital, Rabat.

Haloui said prisoners were holding a rolling hunger strike: when one striker could no longer continue, another would start refusing food. "The situation for those who are on [hunger] strike is very miserable," said Haloui.

A second rights group working with Islamist prisoners confirmed some inmates were on hunger strike.

Another letter from an Islamist inmate describes his treatment by gaolers after he went on hunger strike in Toulal 2 jail.

"They beat me on my feet using all their force and violence, after that they poured cold water on my body and they all urinated on me," said the undated letter, signed by a prisoner called Mohamed Chadeli.

"I was screaming but they beat me again and again... They brought milk and tried to feed it to me by force. They poured it on my face and nose and mouth."

The writer ends the letter by alluding sarcastically to the limits of Morocco's reforms. He signs off with the words: "The Guantanamo of the new Morocco."

Read more on:    morocco  |  north africa
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