[DEBATE] : Morocco: Hundreds on Hunger Strike in Jails
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Sun Jun 22 09:37:54 BST 2008
June 21, 2008
Hunger Strike by Hundreds of Islamists in Morocco Jails
By SOUAD MEKHENNET
MARRAKESH, Morocco — A hunger strike among Islamists has been
spreading across Morocco's prisons since March, according to
government officials and the head of a prisoner advocacy group.
At least 300 prisoners are now refusing some or all food, and 25 are
now very weak, said Abderrahim Mouhtad, who leads the advocacy group,
Ennassir, or Support. There were some reports that inmates were being
Many of the hunger strikers, he said, are among the 1,400 people
convicted of terrorism charges in the wake of the 2003 terrorist
attacks in Casablanca, in which at least a dozen suicide bombers
killed more than 40 people in strikes on a hotel, a restaurant and
Jewish establishments. The hunger strikers are demanding new trials or
immediate release, arguing that their trials were not fair and that
any confessions were coerced.
Moulay Hafid Benhachem, the official in charge of Morocco's prison
system, which was recently reorganized, declined to be interviewed.
But two Moroccan government officials confirmed hunger strikes in 11
prisons. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not
allowed to discuss the matter publicly.
A hunger striker reached by telephone in a prison in the city of
Kenitra, just north of Rabat, the capital, said the prisoners wanted
justice. "We had been parts of mass trials and got long sentences,
even though there had been no evidence," said the inmate, who
identified himself as Mourad Sarouf and said he had been falsely
convicted of being a member of a group that planned attacks in
Morocco. "We want to have fair trials."
In the past, hunger strikes by Islamist inmates have won them extra
rights, including exclusive use of conjugal rooms. But this time, the
government has refused to negotiate, Mr. Mouhtad said.
Another inmate reached by telephone, Abu Elkassim Britel, said he had
drunk only water and eaten only small amounts of sugar since March to
protest being convicted of membership in a terrorist organization, for
which he was sentenced to nine years.
The European Parliament reported on his case in February 2007, saying
Mr. Britel, an Italian citizen of Moroccan descent, had been arrested
in Pakistan in March 2002, questioned by United States and Pakistani
officials and then sent to Morocco. The report said that he had been
under investigation in Italy before going to Pakistan, but that the
Italian inquiry closed without any charges being filed. The
parliamentary report urged the Italian government to take concrete
steps to have him freed.
"I want my release," he said. "Even the European Parliament has said
that I am innocent, and asked the Italian government to get me out of
One of the government officials said that a hunger striker had died —
not one of the Islamist prisoners, but a man who had joined in to
protest his own circumstances. Mr. Mouhtad confirmed that.
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