Since the regime of King Hassan is a long-time ally of the United States, what little attention Morocco’s human rights record receives in this country is usually hidden under a haze of comparisons with egregious violators like Iran and Iraq. Yet Morocco detains hundreds of political prisoners. Some have been held incommunicado since 1972. Arrests of student activists continue, and judicial and legal proceedings remain perfunctory at best.

In Western Sahara, claimed by Morocco and the scene of continuing warfare with Sahara’s Polisario independence movement, even the minimal rights accorded detainees in Morocco do not apply. As early as 1976, some 80 Saharans detained by Moroccan police were disappeared. More recently, hundreds of Saharans remain jailed after their arrest in 1987 to prevent communication between them and a visiting UN team.

Torture, denial of adequate health care, access to information and prompt legal counsel characterize the Moroccan prison system, according to Amnesty International and other independent observers.

These conditions have prompted numerous hunger strikes by political detainees in the aftermath of the many arrests following the 1984 urban riots. Among those arrested, 41 are classified as “prisoners of conscience” by Amnesty. That first wave of hunger strikes led to three deaths in 1985, and hunger strikes have since become a recurring tactic in the struggle of detainees for humane conditions. In 1985, the prosecutor in Marrakech told the parents of the hunger strikers that “your children have declared war on the state, we declare war on them.” In 1987, the government appeared to relent when Ahmad Reda Gudeira, personal adviser to the king, criticized the government’s reliance “solely on means of coercion” and referred to the “sincerity and courage” of the hunger strikers. But as of June 1989, three of the remaining prisoners of conscience arrested in 1984 were continuing their hunger strike at Casablanca’s Averroes hospital. Amnesty reports that they have been denied access to their families for four years, are bathed only once every three to four months and are tied to their beds and force-fed by tubes at mealtimes.

In addition to the detainees left over from the 1984 disturbances and the hundreds of Saharans languishing in jail, there are also dozens of prisoners whose arrests date back to 1977, including 39 prisoners of conscience. About 100 military personnel have been held incommunicado since the 1971 and 1972 assassination attempts on King Hassan. Some have reportedly died as a result of harsh conditions, while others continue to be detained despite the expiration of their sentences.

Another round of detentions occurred in connection with the May 1989 student protests against inadequate educational and social facilities. Dozens of student activists have been detained and eight have received sentences of up to two years in addition to various fines.

Artists have not been immune to King Hassan’s penchant for political security. Painter and poet Ali Idrissi Kaitouni was arrested in March 1982 for publishing Etincelle, a collection of poems on social injustice and political oppression. Illegally held incommunicado for over a month and reportedly subjected to electric shock torture, he is currently serving out a 15-year prison sentence.

Mistreatment at the hands of the authorities is not limited to prisoners. In August 1988, Sabouni al-Mahdi died in prison after going to a Casablanca police station to inquire about his sons held on criminal charges. Mistreatment of relatives had also sparked hunger strikes by political activists in 1984. Though no official executions are reported by Amnesty in recent years, some of the 71 Islamists arrested in 1984 have been sentenced to death, and there are reports of sporadic suicides among both ordinary and political prisoners.

According to Algerian rights organizations with access to prisons and prisoners in that country, the detention process in the wake of the October 1988 riots was one characterized by torture, mass beatings, denial of basic needs and summary trials. Since then, Islamist, leftist and Berber parties have been founded under the terms of the new February 1989 constitution, and much attention has focused on the issue of human rights in the country. The Human Rights League and a number of informal committees, among them the Committee Against Torture, report that those responsible for torturing detainees after October 1988 still remain free. Arrests of political opponents continue, they say, despite government protests that no political prisoners remain in jail.

Though the new constitution allows for greater political participation, several constitutional provisions and other laws still on the books severely limit basic civil and human rights. The law on political parties goes to great lengths to regulate the functioning and fundingof political parties but excludes the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) from its provisions. The government has announced that while the new political parties would be able to contest local elections in 1990, they are to be excluded from national legislative elections scheduled for spring 1990.

Algeria’s Berber minority, which has long sought to assert its cultural and linguistic heritage and had received promises to this effect in 1980, still faces hurdles. The new constitution states that Arabic is the country’s “national and official language” and the 1989 Information Code prohibits new publications in any language other than Arabic. At the same time, the regime has authorized a Berber party, the Rally for Culture and Democracy.

The new liberalized press code fails to remove the media from party control, and censorship remains on the books. It also includes prohibitions against attacking Islam and “national values.”

The new constitution specifies Islam as the state religion, a move opposed by most of the opposition except for the Islamists. This has important ramifications for individual liberties, and serves to reinforce provisions in the Family Code of 1984 legalizing polygamy, allowing for divorce through a simple repudiation by the husband and obligating women to “obey their husbands.” These laws effectively treat women as minors and second-class citizens and have been sharply criticized by the opposition and the major independent women’s organization, the Association for Equality under the Law between Men and Women.

How to cite this article:

"Human Rights Briefing," Middle East Report 163 (March/April 1990).

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