Source: Amnesty International
AI Index: MDE 29/003/2009
Date: 20 February 2009
Morocco/Western Sahara: Immediately Release Human Rights Defender
Amnesty International calls for the immediate and unconditional release of human rights defender, Chekib El-Khiari, head of the Association for Human Rights in the Rif (Association du Rif des droits de l’homme) who is in custody of the National Bureau of the Judicial Police of Casablanca since 17 February 2009. Amnesty International believes him to be a prisoner of conscience, solely detained for his anti-corruption statements and his human rights activities.
According to an article published by the official news agency, Maghreb Arab Press (MAP), in the evening of 19 February which cited a press release by the Ministry of Interior, the General Crown Prosecutor at the Court of Appeals of Casablanca ordered the National Bureau of the
Judicial Police to summon Chekib El-Khiari in relation to public statements he made to national and international media regarding the implication in drug-trafficking in the Moroccan northern costal region of Rif of high ranking State officials.
According to the article, the judicial investigation revealed that the statements made by El-Khiari were baseless and that they have ulterior motives intended to “attack the image of national public and judicial authorities” as a result of their efforts to combat drug-trafficking in region. Amnesty International fears that Chekib El-Khiari is being targeted due to his outspokenness on human rights issues and his anti-corruption activities in the region of Nador. Chekib El-Khiari’s detention comes amid reported arrests in recent weeks on over 100 individuals including
public officials in relation to dismantling a drug-trafficking ring in Nador.
Chekib El-Khiari is a well-known and respected human rights defender in the province of Nador. He has founded the Association of Human Rights in the Rif in 2005 which addresses a number of issues such as the treatment of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa in Morocco and violence against women. Chekib El-Khiari is also known for his support of the cultural rights of the Amazigh in Morocco. In January 2009, he appeared on national Moroccan television discussing his views and opinions on a number of issues related to drug-trafficking in the region and the involvement and corruption of some public officials. More recently, Chekib El-Khiari participated in an international meeting in Barcelona on 28 January 2009 on the growth of illicit products and its consequences on the local populations. The conference saw the participation of a number of organisations representing rights of indigenous people and/or ethnic and cultural minorities such as the World Amazigh Congress.
On the evening of 16 February, law enforcement officials delivered a summons from the National Bureau of the Judicial Police of Casablanca to Chekib El-Khiari at his home in Nador.
The summons, which was reportedly addressed to Chekib El-Khiari in his capacity as head of the Association for Human Rights in the Rif, did not include any reasons for the request. In response to the summons, Chekib El-Khiari travelled to Casablanca, which is approximately
550 kilometres away from Nador, to report to the judicial authorities on the morning of the 17 of February. The following morning, he returned to his family home in Nador accompanied by approximately 10 law enforcement officials in civilian dress. They searched the home and
confiscated a number of items including his computer and documents. They refused to tell the family where Chekib was being taken.