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Morocco: Against Torture Somewhere; Against Torture Anywhere

Moroccan officials have been up in arms this week, queuing in front of cameras to express their utmost outrage after the arrest and alleged torture of Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud [Fr] by the Polisario Front, the Algerian-backed separatist movement that disputes sovereignty over Western Sahara with Morocco. Mustapha Salma, a former Polisario Front police chief and high ranking official was accused of treason by the separatist movement after he publicly praised the autonomy plan [Ar], proposed by Moroccans to solve the over three-decade old conflict. The story of Mustapha Salma can hardly pass unnoticed as it is all over the media in Morocco; his pictures splashed across the front pages of local newspapers. The official media has been condemning the Polisario and their Algerian backers on the ground that they have violated Mustapha Salma's right to free expression and for fear that he may be facing torture. (Mustapha Salma has, reportedly, since been released.)

Whilst this story raises legitimate concerns over the violation of human rights by the Polisario Front and the Algerian regime, some bloggers expressed outrage over the indifference of local mainstream media and the Moroccan government over the fate of a young Moroccan, Fodeil Aberkane. It is a more local, but way more horrifying story of a young man, whose most basic human right, the right to life, has been denied.

The victim was 37 years old and his brutal death in a police station in the old city of Salé, near the capital Rabat, is for many bloggers, reminiscent of the Years of Lead, the dark era of the previous regime of King Hassan II, when police brutality and torture perpetrated by state agents was a horrifying reality Moroccans had to live with.

Fodeil is arrested on September 11th, 2010, and charged with consuming cannabis. After 48 hours spent in jail a judge decides to release him. A few days later Fodeil goes back to the police station, to ask for the return of his belongings: a motorcycle and a cellphone. An altercation follows and Fodeil ends up again in prison, accused of “insulting officers during the exercise of their function.” Two days after that he is transferred to the main hospital in Rabat where he is pronounced dead. There is no doubt in the minds of Fodeil's family and friends as to what led to this tragic end [Fr]: police brutality and torture. An investigation is launched but no charges brought as of yet against any of the persons believed to be involved in the death of Fodeil Aberkane.

The story has grabbed the attention of bloggers and online activists as it comes amidst a climate of decline in freedom of the press in the country and, since, as writer and blogger Laila Lalami reminds us, it isn't an isolated incident:

Fodail Aberkane is not an exception. Over the last few years, allegations of torture have been made against the police in Morocco on many occasions. Two years ago, Zahra Boudkour, a 21-year-old university student from Marrakech, was arrested for taking part in a student demonstration. She was stripped naked and beaten, but no one was brought to account for the violence that was visited upon her. In his encounter with the Marrakech police, another university student, Abdelkebir El Bahi, found himself thrown from the 3rd floor window of a dorm. He is now in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Boudkour and El Bahi were abused and tortured because of their ideas and their ideals. Fodail Aberkane was trying to get his moped back.

Bill Day writing on the a la menthe agrees:

Because the victims are not celebrities, they suffer and die unnoticed by the Western media — out of sight, out of mind. While the Kingdom has broken very publicly with the “Years of Lead,” during which there was widespread torture of political dissidents under King Hassan II, incidents such as those reported by Lalami are a chilling counterpoint to the current regime's bright face of prosperity, particularly when coupled with ongoing suppression of any kind of free press.

Blogger and activist Najib Chaouki [Ar] created a Facebook group called “We Are All Victims of Torture,” in which preamble he calls for the “perpetrators of this crime to be prosecuted diligently.”

Blogger Larbi denounces the double standards of the Moroccan government [Fr]. He writes:

Si ce gouvernement, avait une seule once de dignité, il devrait différer le plus tôt possible les assassins de Fodail Aberkane devant la justice ne serait-ce que pour ne pas mourir du ridicule. Quant à la torture, on oserait même pas penser qu’elle cessera un jour, tant qu’au Maroc , elle est apparemment éternelle.

If this government had an ounce of dignity, it should defer Fodail Aberkane's killers to justice as soon as possible, if only to avoid dying of ridicule. As for torture, we dare not think that it will ever cease to exist, as it appears to be eternal in Morocco.

An online petition to “End Torture and Police Violence in Morocco,” has gathered over 300 signatures so far.

Some bloggers and Twitterers have been sharing and displaying banners like the following picture that reads: “Makhzen: Police kills. If you wish it to continue, keep quiet.”

The Makhzen is the generic word that designates the Moroccan ruling establishment.

Blogger and lawyer Ibn Kafka offers his reading [Fr] of the reasons behind the persistence of torture in Morocco:

La torture est […] un instrument de pouvoir dont le régime marocain ne tient pas à se passer, mais dont il tient seulement à limiter les effets nocifs sur sa réputation, nationale et internationale. En l’absence de contre-pouvoirs politiques et institutionnels sérieux en interne, ce sont principalement les retombées médiatiques et diplomatiques externes qui pèsent sur les choix sécuritaires du makhzen.

Torture is an instrument of power which the Moroccan regime is not willing to abandon, but whose adverse effects on its national and international reputation, it wants to limit. In the absence of serious internal political and institutional counterweights, it is mainly the media and diplomatic fallouts that may constrain the security-related choices of the Makhzen.

As for Western media, the blogger explains…

[Ils] ne s’intéressent au Maroc qu’à travers l’optique orientalisme-islamisme-terrorisme – et dans cette optique, Fodail Aberkane ne remplit pas de fonction utile.

They see Morocco only through the lens of orientalism/Islamism/terrorism – and in this respect, Fodail Aberkane does not fulfill any useful function.

Excessive, unchecked prerogatives delegated to the police often lead to an arbitrary abuse of power, as Riad Essebai writes on Robin des Blogs [Fr]:

Aberkane n'est ni le premier, ni le dernier à être la victime d'un système, ou l'agent de la force publique peut être, à la foi, juge et arbitre. Ce pouvoir “absolu”, est le véritable criminel dans cette affaire, et c'est cela qu'il faudra combattre.

Aberkane is neither the first nor the last to be the victim of a system in which a police officer may be judge and arbiter. This “absolute” power is the real criminal in this case, and this is what we should be fighting.

aboulahab, writing on the C.J.D.M. blog [Fr] (Circle of Young Moroccan Idiots) urges people to speak up:

[L]’Histoire retiendra tout type de profil, sauf le profil bas. Assez de bassesse. Le Maroc a besoin de grands hommes, qu’ils se manifestent. Sommes-nous déjà une civilisation de fonctionnaires asservis et de citoyens muets ?

History will remember all but people who keep a low profile. Enough meanness. Morocco needs big men. Let them come forward. Are we a civilization of subjugated civil servants and quiet citizens?

1 comment

  • Manus McManus

    To answer your question Hisham, Yes Morocco is a nation of subjugated civil servants and quiet citizens. Moroccans have been Guinea-Pigs in a ruthless Orwellian experiment for decades now. There sense of community and morality has been totally obliterated. This is the land of “Al Hoggra” and a “Nifaq”. This is the land of “Ka ta3raff m3a nan kat tkelam” what do you expect?!!!!
    It will take decades to cure Morocco from the effects of this authoritarian crooked regime. Alas! The Moroccans backs have been broken and many of them will needlessly die again. The regime’s dogma has remained unadulterated; it was just a temporary facelift, a short-lived lull during the transition period. However, one can always see its ugly face arising when vicious methods are called for. Unfortunately, old habits die hard my dear friend.

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