Morocco: Quash conviction of El Mortada Iamrachen

The Moroccan authorities must ensure all charges against Hirak protester El Mortada Iamrachen are dropped, after he was sentenced to five years in prison for two Facebook posts, Amnesty International said. The call comes ahead of the 2 May session of the Appeal Court of Sale, near the capital Rabat, which is to rule on his appeal against the conviction and sentence.

"The Moroccan authorities must drop all charges against El Mortada Iamrachen, who is being punished for peacefully expressing his views. It is outrageous that an advocate for peaceful protest suffers imprisonment just for making posts on his Facebook page under the pretence of counter terrorism laws,” said Heba Morayef, MENA Regional Director at Amnesty International.

During the Hirak protests that swept across Morocco’s Hoceima region between October 2016 and July 2017, El Mortada Iamrachen, who is also known as Abdallah El Kassimi, used his Facebook page to call for peaceful protests and took part in some of them. His lawyer Mohamed Sadkou believes that it was his active involvement in the Hirak movement which lead to his current prosecution and imprisonment on trumped-up charges. 

El Mortada Iamrachen was first arrested at his house on 10 June 2017. His father had a heart attack on the same day and died a few days later. He was temporarily released by order of the Rabat Appeal court on 22 June 2017. Police then re-arrested El Mortada Iamrachen in November 2017 after the Sale Court of First Instance sentenced him to five years in prison on charges including "advocating acts constituting terrorism offenses" based on two Facebook posts he published in December 2016 and June 2017. Amnesty International has reviewed the verdict in detail and has found that the two Facebook posts presented as evidence to convict El Mortada Iamrachen did not advocate violence.

The first of the two Facebook posts for which Iamrachen  was convicted, published on 19 December 2016, was a news report from an online media outlet reporting the assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, which quoted the assassin’s declaration as he shot the ambassador: "We are dying in Aleppo and you are dying here".

The second post, published on 9 June 2017, was an account of a telephone conversation between El Mortada Iamrachen and a person presenting himself as a journalist. In this post, he described how he had sarcastically responded to a question by the purported journalist about whether Iamrachen had attempted to bring in weapons to Morocco in 2011 on the orders of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, telling the journalist that he had in fact received the orders in a meeting with al-Zawahiri in Tora Bora, Afghanistan.

"Of course, Iamrachen was being sarcastic as he has never been to Afghanistan. No one would confess to smuggling weapons on a phone conversation with a stranger. The exchange in question simply shows how frustrated he was by the prevalent misconceptions about him. Iamrachen has suffered an enormous injustice here. The evidence presented to the court should not be used as it violates his right to freedom of expression, which is protected by Moroccan and international law. This is even more serious as he was forced to confess to the charges with threats that intimate photos of his wife would be disseminated online," Iamrachen’s lawyer Sadkou told Amnesty International.

During his trial, El Mortada Iamrachen told the court that the police had threatened to circulate private photographs of his wife to pressure him into signing the interrogation report. The court did not investigate these claims.

Mohamed Sadkou has also told Amnesty International that his client has been in solitary confinement in Sale prison since November 2017.  He last visited him on 3 April 2018.

"El Mortada has been convicted for peacefully expressing his views. This is an unfair trial against a free thinker. To add to his misfortune, his prison conditions are very bad." Maati Monjib, president of the Moroccan freedom of expression organisation Freedom Now told Amnesty international.

Born in February 1987 in the region of Al Hoceima, El Mortada Iamrachen was raised in a religious and conservative community. He became a local imam and an influential voice in the region advocating for non-violence.

The Moroccan government must respect its obligations under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Morocco is a signatory.  International human rights law does allow states to impose some restrictions on the exercise of the right to freedom of expression for certain legitimate purposes, such as protecting public order or national security. However, it is also a requirement that the authorities demonstrate that such restrictions are necessary and proportionate to the stated objective. In any event, imprisonment is an inherently deprotonate restriction on freedom of expression.