Source: Human Rights Watch
May 1, 2009
Critic of Drug Policy Chekib El-Khayari Now Held More Than 10 Weeks
PLEASE SIGN AND SEND THE LETTER TO THE MOROCCAN KING TO ASK FOR CHAKIB’S INMEDIATE RELEASE
(Washington, DC) – The continuing detention of Chekib el-Khayari shows the
stark limits to Morocco’s tolerance for criticism, Human Rights Watch said
today. The human rights activist and whistleblower from the northern city
of Nador has been in pretrial detention for more than 10 weeks.
On April 23, 2009, el-Khayari appeared before an investigating judge,
Jamal Serhane, for the first substantive hearing since his arrest on
February 18. At the hearing, Khayari defended himself against charges that
he had “gravely offended” Moroccan state institutions by criticizing lax
drug interdiction policies. At this hearing, he also learned that the
prosecutor had formulated three new charges against him, related to minor
infractions of customs and currency regulations that date to 2006.
“It’s pretty clear that the new charges against el-Khayari appear to be
one more attempt to silence a critic on politically sensitive issues, and
to intimidate other activists,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and
North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “El-Khayari’s prosecution
shows that despite Morocco’s reputation for open debate and a thriving
civil society, the authorities are still ready to imprison activists who
cross certain red lines.”
Before his arrest, el-Khayari had made numerous statements to the
international media and in conferences in Europe, questioning the
diligence of Moroccan authorities in suppressing the smuggling of illegal
drugs from northern Morocco to Europe. El-Khayari is also an activist on
behalf of Amazigh (Berber) rights. He has criticized mistreatment by
Moroccan security forces of migrants from other countries who are trying
to enter Europe clandestinely, and of Moroccan citizens by both Moroccan
and Spanish security forces at the nearby frontier with the Spanish
enclave of Melilla.
El-Khayari’s lawyers said they learned of the new charges only minutes
before the hearing got under way in the Casablanca Court of First
Instance. The charges relate to el-Khayari’s handling of €225 (US$288)
that the Spanish daily El País had paid him for an essay he contributed to
the issue of July 4, 2006. He is alleged to have opened a bank account in
Melilla to deposit the check from El País, and later to have withdrawn the
money, without using a Moroccan bank as an intermediary or informing
Morocco’s Office of Currency Exchange (le Bureau des changes).
The prosecution alleges that these transactions violated Moroccan laws
governing the opening of bank accounts abroad by Moroccans residing in
Morocco, and the transfer by Moroccans of currency into Morocco.
Violations are subject to penalties of up to five years in prison.
“Whether or not el-Khayari actually violated these currency regulations,
the decision to charge him at this late date and for such a small amount
only reinforces the impression of a politically motivated prosecution,”
Upon completing his investigation, Judge Serhane is to recommend whether
to refer the case to trial and, if so, finalize the charge sheet. He has
refused to release el-Khayari pending trial. However, the court will be
required to free el-Khayari provisionally by May 21 if he has not yet been
tried, since Moroccan law limits pretrial detention to three months when
the charges relate to minor offenses (délits), as they do in this case.
The charge of “gravely offending state institutions” under Article 263 and
Article 265 of the Penal Code carries a penalty of one month to one year
in prison and a fine of 1200 to 5000 dirhams (US$144 to US$600). At the
April 23 hearing, el-Khayari contended that he had not criticized state
institutions as such, but only state agents who were not diligently
enforcing drug interdiction laws.
Regardless of the facts in this case, laws that criminalize and provide
prison terms for “gravely offending state institutions” are incompatible
with international law governing the right to freedom of expression, which
stress in particular the need to protect the freedom to criticize
politicians and state authorities.
Judge Serhane has allowed el-Khayari’s lawyers access to the complete case
file after initially refusing to provide them with parts of it. However,
in a departure from standard practice, he has allowed them to consult it
only at the courthouse, and has not permitted them to make photocopies.