Morocco: Activists jailed for reporting torture must be released immediately

Two activists imprisoned after they reported they had been abducted and tortured must be released immediately and unconditionally, Amnesty International said.

Human rights and political activist Wafae Charaf was sentenced to a year in prison and a 1000 MAD fine (approximately USD 120) on Tuesday, 12 July 2014, for allegedly falsely reporting being abducted and tortured by unknown persons in April 2014.

The court also ordered her to pay 50,000 MAD (approximately USD 6,000) in compensation to Morocco’s police force for slander, although she did not accuse them.

“No-one should be imprisoned for reporting torture and slander should not be a criminal offence. This conviction sends a chilling warning to anyone who has suffered torture, or any other ill-treatment, that they should keep quiet or risk ending up behind bars,” said Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director at Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.

Wafae Charaf, a 26-year old left-wing political activist and member of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH), reported being abducted and tortured by unknown men for several hours after attending a workers’ protest in the city of Tangiers on 27 April 2014. She said the men beat her and threatened her with further violence if she did not stop her activism.

Three days later, after obtaining a medical certificate from the local hospital documenting light injuries, she filed a complaint with judicial authorities, prompting the Tangiers judicial police and the National Brigade for the Judicial Police (BNPJ) to investigate her allegations.

But on 8 July, before the investigation was concluded, Wafae Charaf was arrested, detained and charged with falsely reporting an offence and slander under Articles 263, 264 and 445 of the Penal Code.

After more than a month in pre-trial detention, she was convicted on all counts. A defence lawyer stated that the court refused to summon key witnesses, and failed to disclose phone tapping evidence which was key to the conviction, raising concerns that Wafae Charaf may have been unfairly tried, having been unable to challenge this evidence. She is currently detained in Tangiers Local Prison.

Second conviction

Wafae Charaf’s sentencing came only weeks after a similar conviction against another activist.

On 23 July 2014, 22-year old Oussama Housne, also a member of AMDH in Casablanca, was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for an alleged false torture report and slander. He was ordered to pay 100,000 MAD (approximately USD 12,000) in compensation to Morocco’s police force for slander. He is currently detained in Oukacha Local Prison in Casablanca.

He had reported being abducted and tortured by unknown individuals as he was leaving a protest in solidarity with detained activists on 2 May 2014. He said the men burned him with a heated metal rod and raped him with their fingers.

Three days later, human rights defenders from the local branch of the AMDH recorded a video of the activist describing the abuse to which he says he was subjected and posted it on YouTube, prompting the authorities to open an investigation led by the BNPJ.

On 1 June 2014, the Crown Prosecutor closed the investigation and concluded that Housne had not been tortured and announced his intention to prosecute him. The activist was arrested the same day and charged for false reporting and slander under Articles 264 and 445 of the Penal Code.

Housne’s lawyer told Amnesty International that the court failed to summon key defence witnesses during the trial, raising concerns that he was unfairly convicted. Meanwhile, he was ordered to pay a high sum in compensation to Morocco’s police force, although his statements on Youtube only referred to unknown perpetrators.

The young man is also active within the 20 February peaceful protest movement that calls for greater respect for human rights, democratization, social justice and an end to corruption.

Both activists are appealing the convictions.

“These convictions will only strengthen the culture of impunity in Morocco. Torture will only be eradicated once victims can safely break the silence and perpetrators are brought to justice,” said Said Boumedouha.