A partir du 13 mai 2014, Amnesty International lance une campagne mondiale « STOP TORTURE ». CLIQUEZ ICI.
Selon Amnesty, qui dénonce la torture dans le monde depuis cinquante ans, force est de constater que les gouvernements ne respectent pas leurs promesses, ni leurs signatures sous les accords et les conventions contre la torture. L’utilisation de la torture est (re)devenue la méthode pour obtenir des confessions, pour faire taire l’opposition ou simplement pour punir.
Elle se focalise sur cinq pays : le Maroc, le Mexique, le Nigeria, les Philippines et l’Ouzbékistan. Et sur cinq personnes dans chacun de ses pays, respectivement : Ali Aarrass, Claudia Medina Tamariz, Moses Akatugba, Alfred Disbarro et Dilorom Abdukadirova.
Pour le cas d’ Ali Aarrass, Amnesty International s’appuie sur le rapport du Rapporteur spécial de l’ONU Juan Mendez et sur le Rapport du Groupe de Travail de l’ONU sur la détention arbitraire. Ce dernier demande la libération immédiate d’Ali Aarrass.
Amnesty International lance un appel à écrire à Ramid El Mustapha, le Ministre de la justice et des libertés du Maroc, et à Ali Aarrass à la prison de Salée II. Amnesty demande la libération immédiate d’ Ali Aarrass, l’examen des rapports sur sa torturé et maltraitance, l’installation des caméras vidéo et la présence d’un avocat lors des interrogations, comme protections contre la torture.
Tout le matériel pour la campagne peut être obtenu au siège d’Amnesty International.
Nous tenons à remercier tous les sympathisants, activistes, artistes, avocats ou parlementaires qui ont mené un combat pour Ali Aarrass depuis cinq ans. Sans vous, le nom d’Ali Aarrass ne se trouverait pas parmi les cinq personnes, personnifiant l’horreur de la torture dans le monde d’aujourd’hui.
En particulier, nous tenons à remercier le Comité « London Friends of Ali Aarrass », qui a joué un rôle décisif pour que la cause d’Ali Aarrass, un belgo-marocain, soit connue au niveau international et parmi les organisations des droits de l’homme. Leurs lettres, publications, traductions, soutien financier, deux motions dans le parlement britannique, visites à l’ambassade belge et marocain à Londres, leur participation aux audiences du procès d’Ali à Rabat, la projection de film « Ali Aarrass pour l’exemple » à l’université de King’s College, leurs pétitions avec des personnalités du plus haut niveau juridique et parlementaire… resteront un exemple de solidarité internationale.
Interpellez les candidat(e)s pour les élections européennes, fédérales et régionales pour qu’ils/elles se joignent à la campagne « STOP TORTURE » et demandent la libération d’Ali Aarrass et tous les prisonniers torturés au Maroc.
Luk Vervaet, www.freeali.eu
It is probable that Chief Justice Warren had read Hannah Arendt’s ground-breaking study The Origins of Totalitarianism. Arendt coined the phrase ‘the right to have rights’, which encapsulated her insight that although human rights were held to be universal, access to those rights was impossible without citizenship of a nation state.
The relationship between a Government and its citizens, the obligations owed by the one to the other, and how and for what reasons Governments can end the relationship by revoking citizenship have become fraught questions in the post-9/11 age, when citizens’ rights have repeatedly crashed against doctrines of State sovereignty. Some Muslim citizens of European States have discovered that they cannot rely on their Government to protect them from arbitrary and illegal detention or torture abroad. Others have discovered how easy it is to lose citizenship, and how few procedural protections they have.
On 10th January 2014, lawyers appeared before the Brussels first-instance court to argue that Belgium is in breach of its obligation to protect its dual-national citizens from torture. The case is that of Ali Aarrass, a Belgian-Moroccan citizen tortured and imprisoned in Morocco, to whom the Belgian Government refuses to extend consular protection.
Born in the Spanish enclave of Melilla and educated in Belgium, where he did his military service, Ali was subjected to a two-year investigation for alleged involvement in arms smuggling by Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón, and was cleared in March 2009. The Spanish authorities nevertheless extradited him to Morocco in December 2010, despite a UN Human Rights Committee request to stay the extradition. Ali disappeared into incommunicado detention and nearly a year later was convicted in the Rabat court of smuggling arms and sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment (later reduced to 12). The conviction was based solely on ‘confession’ evidence which Ali consistently maintained was false, his signature to an incomprehensible document in an unfamiliar language obtained by sustained torture.
The allegations of torture were never properly investigated by the Moroccan authorities, but following a prison visit with a forensic medical expert in September 2012, UN Special Rapporteur Juan Mendez confirmed that Ali had been severely tortured. A December 2013 report from the UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concurred that Ali’s confession was obtained by torture, rendering his conviction and imprisonment unlawful.
No help from Belgium
During the whole period of his incarceration, Ali’s family and supporters have called on the Belgian Government to provide diplomatic protection. The Foreign Minister has consistently refused, saying that in Morocco, Ali is a Moroccan citizen and it would be contrary to normal practice to intervene diplomatically. Only in August 2013, when Ali was in a critical condition on a hunger and thirst strike, did the Minister ask the Moroccan Government to ensure that he was treated with respect for his human rights. Even then, he insisted that the Government was not providing diplomatic assistance and would not intervene in the conviction. The lawyers’ argument is that since torture is jus cogens in international law, the obligation to protect citizens from torture must take precedence over diplomatic conventions of non-intervention.
Ali’s case raises forcefully the issue of the way Muslim ‘terror suspects’ are treated as non-citizens by the States of their nationality, in the context of the clash between diplomatic conventions (reflecting State sovereignty) and human rights obligations.
Feroz Abbasi was one of the Muslim British citizens kidnapped abroad and bundled off to Guantánamo (others included Ruhel Ahmed, Tarek Dergoul, Jamal Al Harith, Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal, Richard Belmar, Martin Mubanga and Moazzem Begg). In a challenge brought on behalf of Abbasi, R (Abbasi) v Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs  EWCA Civ 1598, the Court of Appeal accepted that at Guantánamo the men were ‘arbitrarily detained in a “legal black-hole” without the possibility of challenging their detention, in apparent contravention of fundamental principles recognised by both jurisdictions and by international law’i – but the Government denied any entitlement to consular protection against arbitrary and limitless detention – and the court agreed. ‘International law has not yet recognised that a State is under a duty to intervene by diplomatic or other means to protect a citizen who is suffering or threatened with injury in a foreign State’, the Court of Appeal said. The judges held that since the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) had already considered Mr Abbasi’s request for assistance, there was nothing further they could do – they could not order the FCO to intervene on behalf of the Britons held at Guantánamo.
Relatives of Moazzem Begg and other British detainees sought to join Abbasi’s case as interveners and to put evidence of their treatment before the Court, but the application was refused, so there were no allegations of torture or inhuman treatment before the Court, although by the time of the hearing in September 2002 the treatment of detainees (including British nationals) at Bagram and Guantánamo was already causing grave concern.
It is not only Muslims who find themselves abandoned by the country of their nationality in the face of ill-treatment by a foreign State. As recently as January 2014, the European Court of Human Rights in Jones and others v United Kingdom  ECHR 32, upheld the refusal by the UK House of Lords in 2006 to allow four white Britons to sue their Saudi torturers in British courts. But it seems that only in the case of Muslims do Governments collude in torture and illegal rendition. The report of the aborted Gibson inquiry, The Detainee Inquiry, published in December 2013, indicated that from early 2002, British intelligence officers were aware of ill-treatment including the use of hoods, stress positions, sleep deprivation and physical assaults on detainees including at least one British national; that some approved of the ill-treatment, others turned a blind eye, and that even when officers registered concern, no action was taken to stop it. Similarly, the UK did not take opportunities to object to proposals to transfer individuals including British nationals to Guantánamo, and in some cases approved or cooperated with US renditions to torturing states. Ministers only sought the release of British detainees from Guantánamo in December 2003.
British citizenship provides no protection against extradition, either. In October 2012, British citizens Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan (who has won prizes for his poetry) were extradited to supermax incarceration in the US, to await trial on charges which the Director of Public Prosecutions refused to prosecute in the UK for lack of evidence and whose sole connection to the US is a computer server’s location. The Asperger’s syndrome which Talha suffers, in common with Gary McKinnon, and which moved Home Secretary Theresa May to stop McKinnon’s extradition, did not help Talha.
Getting and losing citizenship
The protection of citizenship is becoming increasingly threadbare for European Muslims. Simultaneously, in the UK at least, citizenship has become harder to acquire, and easier to lose. In 2002, with multiculturalism giving way to the new politics of ‘community cohesion’, the New Labour Government made naturalisation more difficult. Prospective citizens were tested to ensure that they were familiar with ‘British values’, to which they pledged allegiance in a revamped citizenship ceremony under the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002.
Until 2002, only British citizens who had become British by naturalisation or registration (as opposed to being born British) could lose citizenship, and a strict procedure for revocation of citizenship had to be applied before the loss of citizenship took effect. The new law stipulated for the first time that those born British could be stripped of their citizenship, provided that they would not become Stateless. It did away with the old grounds for deprivation of citizenship, disaffection or disloyalty, and trading with the enemy, replacing them by ‘conduct seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the UK’. With no definition of ‘vital interests’, the new law potentially embraced a much broader range of actions for which citizenship could be forfeit.
Concerns at the vagueness of the phrase are heightened by the extreme breadth of the cognate phrase ‘national security’ and the discretion given to ministers to define it. Successive Governments have decided that actions against a ‘friendly State’ can damage the UK’s national security, no matter that we cannot choose our Government’s friends, who include many torturing states. Senior judges have both accepted this broad definition and have left it up to ministers to decide whether particular actions damage national security. ‘The courts are not entitled to differ from the opinion of the Secretary of State on the question of whether, for example, the promotion of terrorism in a foreign country by a UK resident would be contrary to the interests of national security’, said Lord Hoffmann in 2002 in the case of Shafiq ur Rehman v SSHD  1AC 153. There is no reason to believe that the judges would be any less deferential on the question of what are the UK’s ‘vital interests’ and what conduct would be ‘seriously prejudicial’ to them. In any event, since 2006, the only criterion for depriving a British citizen of his or her nationality is that it is ‘conducive to the public good’ to do so.
In 2004, the provision which allowed an appeal before the deprivation decision took effect was repealed, meaning that the person is no longer a British citizen from the moment the decision is served, and can (if abroad) be excluded from the country. Unsurprisingly, since 2004 virtually all deprivations have occurred while the ‘target’ is abroad, and the ‘target’ then excluded, creating untold difficulties for families, who must either share a husband or father’s exile or endure separation. In a recent case, L1 v SSHD  EWCA Civ 906, the notice did not reach its target until the 28-day time limit for appealing had expired. The Home Office sought to strike out his appeal as late, and the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) agreed that the man had lost his appeal rights. It was left to the Court of Appeal to expose the essential injustice of this position: waiting until the man left the country to ‘serve’ the notice of deprivation of citizenship without actually giving it to him, by sending it to the home address in the UK to which he could not return, was manipulation of the process to try to deprive him of appeal rights, the Court of Appeal held.
Appellants are unlikely even to know the detailed grounds for deprivation, or see the evidence relied on. Such was the case for at least forty applicants for naturalisation, who were refused on ‘character’ grounds, and were given no details. A five-year legal battle has left them no clearer as to whether the refusal rests on mistaken identity, or malicious allegations, or monumental misunderstanding as can be seen in the decision of AHK and others v SSHD  EWHC 1426 (Admin). How much more of an injustice is it to strip someone of a citizenship they may have had since birth, without providing detailed reasons and detailed evidence which they may be able to rebut?
A New Labour Government was behind the deprivation provisions, but the Coalition Government has used them more. Five people were stripped of citizenship from 2003 to May 2010, and at least 37 since – 20 in the past year, according to the Bureau for Investigative Journalism, which, says that two of those who lost citizenship were then killed by drones, while one man, Mahdi Hashi, was taken by rendition to the USA.
Deprivation and statelessness
In October 2013 the Supreme Court ruled that Hilal Abdul-Razzaq Ali Al-Jedda could not be deprived of citizenship, as this would make him stateless. He had lost Iraqi citizenship when he became British. The Home Office argued that his statelessness would not be the fault of the Home Office but his own fault, for failure to re-apply for Iraqi citizenship. Following the Supreme Court’s rejection of the argument, the Home Office pushed through an amendment to the Immigration Bill on its third reading in the Commons in January 2014, to allow naturalised British citizens with no other nationality to be deprived of citizenship, thus rendering them stateless, for conduct ‘seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the UK’.
The fact that the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness allows this, since the UK reserved this power when it signed the Convention, does not make it any less objectionable, particularly since it is partly politically motivated, a sop to far-Right Tories, and partly a riposte to the Supreme Court’s Al-Jedda judgment. The new clause 60 would allow the Secretary of State to take account of conduct pre-dating the Act, which shows the Government clearly has Al-Jedda in its sights, as well as Abu Hamza, another beneficiary of the current ban on rendering British citizens stateless.
The ‘right to have rights’ has become, in Theresa May’s words, a privilege, not a right. States’ rights are absolute; those of citizens are contingent and increasingly precarious.
For more information about Ali Aarrass and Talha Ahsan see www.freeali.eu/ and freetalha.org/.
Frances Webber is a Vice-President of the Haldane Society. She is Vice-Chair of the Institute of Race Relations Council of Management and a former barrister who specialised in immigration, refugee and human rights law until her retirement in 2008. She co-edited Macdonald’s Immigration Law and Practice (5th edition, 2001, 6th edition 2005) and Halsbury’s British Nationality, Immigration and Asylum (4th edition, 2002 reissue), and is the author of Borderline Justice: the fight for refugee and migrant rights (2012).
by Frances Webber
London Friends of Ali Aarrass
Excellent news for all the Friends of Ali Aarrass: a Brussels court has ordered the Belgian Foreign Affairs Ministry to provide Ali with the consular assistance he is entitled to expect as a Belgian citizen, which has been denied him throughout his ordeal.
The torture he suffered following his illegal extradition from Spain to Morocco was confirmed by the UN Special Rapporteur in a document addressed to the Moroccan ministry of justice, published in May 2013. More recently, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention confirmed that it was on the basis of confessions obtained by torture that Ali was convicted in November 2011 and sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment (later reduced to 12).
From the beginning of his nightmare, Ali sought the help of the Belgian government – far more his government than that of Morocco, since he was educated in Belgium, worked there and did his military service there, while he has never lived in Morocco and has no ties there save the formal tie of citizenship. But the Foreign Affairs Ministry has always refused to provide consular assistance, confirming this position most recently on 29 January 2014 in answer to a parliamentary question. The minister said that ‘humanitarian assistance’ had been provided. This referred to the occasion in August 2013 when Ali was weeks into a potentially fatal hunger and thirst strike over his treatment in prison, and the minister wrote seeking the Moroccan government’s assurance that he was being treated in accordance with human rights norms – an intervention which led to an immediate improvement in his treatment. But even then the minister indicated that this was exceptional and that he would not intervene in Ali’s conviction.
The refusal to provide consular protection led Ali to take the case, through his Belgian lawyers, against the ministry. In argument, the ministry again denied all responsibility for Ali, while accepting that it had been aware of the allegations of torture – the torture was not committed by Belgian officials, or on Belgian territory, so was not Belgium’s problem, its lawyers said.
In a ground-breaking judgment, delivered on 3 February, the court ordered the ministry to intervene. It ruled that the purpose of consular assistance was the effective protection of citizens’ rights abroad, and that the right to intervene could become an obligation if the embassy was aware that the citizen was alleging a breach of fundamental rights. The court affirmed that Article 4 of the Hague Convention of 1930 (which precludes diplomatic protection of a national against a State whose nationality the person also possesses) did not apply, as Morocco had not ratified it, so international law did not prevent intervention on behalf of dual nationals in this case.
Ali, his family and friends look forward to a speedy visit by the Belgian consul in Morocco. Meanwhile, they thank supporters for helping to make the legal case possible.
Funds are still needed to enable the family to continue visiting Ali in Salé II prison and for the legal case in the Moroccan constitutional court against his conviction. You can do an electronic bank transfer to the Friends of Ali Aarrass, account number 65583960; sort code 089299.
Thanks, and all the best –
Since the visit of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which found that Ali’s conviction was based solely on torture evidence, Ali has suffered further reprisals, according to a press release from his lawyers in Belgium – in particular, he has been placed in solitary confinement, with no reasons given. He needs consular assistance. On 10 January, the Brussels first-instance court will hear an application by Ali’s lawyers for an order that the foreign ministry provides all necessary assistance and protection, taking into account all that he and his family have suffered.
On 3 January, Ali wrote a letter from prison in which he spoke of ‘the necessity for a healthy society to put in place systems for proper reintegration of those who have through unfortunate circumstances become involved in crime or folly, and solidarity between different groups in society, because of the way prisoners become cut off from all sorts of activities. Initiatives for such reintegration into society, which are designed to stifle any criminal or anti-social impulses, must surely be welcomed, and anyone who has lived among prisoners understands the utility of encouraging any project which reduces their social isolation and allows them to participate in society, even from behind the prison walls.
‘No one could imagine the obstacles and difficulties which can be put in the way of such initiatives: On 29 August 2013, following my meeting with Jamila Sayouri and members of the CNDH, I proposed to the director of Salé II prison, Abdellah Darif, that I obtain from Belgium clothes, shoes and toiletries to distribute among poor prisoners or those serving their sentence far from their families, in the hope that this could give them back some of the humanity taken from them. The director was very agreeable to the project, which he saw as a humanitarian initiative to be encouraged.
‘After giving my family in Belgium the green light to implement the proposal and start the collection, I saw Mr Darif again on 27 September and he re-affirmed his support.
‘On 30 September, the day of the planned visit, I tried without success to contact the director to tell him that bags of clothes, shoes and toiletries were on their way. I was told that he was away attending a family funeral. Everything seemed to be going well, and my sister was able to bring in several bags of items for the prisoners under the benevolent eye of activists from the Belgian Egalité party. Suddenly, at the end of the visit, everything unravelled. When my sister tried to retrieve her passport, she was told she could not have it unless she took back the bags she had brought in, on the ground that guards had no instructions to receive them. My sister refused to submit to this blackmail, and in response all the bags were savagely thrown out of the prison.
‘Some questions come to mind:
– Did the initial permission to bring the bags in come solely from the guards at the main entrance, which is inconceivable?
– How could the bags have been admitted without prior authorisation?
– Or was the whole thing a sham to make Salé II look good for the cameras of Egalité, who filmed the reception of the bags but were not allowed inside?
‘The organisation ‘Observatory’ is looking after the bags pending resolution of the issue. Observatory activist Abdellah Mozdad has tried to resolve it through an approach to Mostafa Hilmi, the official responsible for social affairs in the prisons directorate, who says he can do nothing without the blessing of prisons director-general Tabeq Saleh Mohamed. Nothing has been resolved despite various interventions, notably from CNDH.
‘Why are Salé II’s prisoners treated in this way? Are they such monsters that they don’t deserve any concern, or any attempt to ameliorate their pitiable conditions of detention? The categorical, repeated, unjustifiable refusal of all social initiatives will not assist prisoners’ rehabilitation – it only accentuates their isolation, locks them further in to a punitive milieu and precludes all possibilities of reintegration.’
In a press statement following its visit to Morocco in December 2013, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention named Ali Aarrass as someone convicted on the sole basis of torture evidence, and called on Morocco to reform its penal code to prevent reliance on torture and the fruits of torture in terrorist cases.
Extracts from the group’s statement:
The group’s President-Rapporteur, Mads Andenas (Norway), its former President El Hadji Malick Sow (Senegal) and Roberto Garretón (Chile) conducted the visit, accompanied by members of the Secretariat of the Working Group of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and by UN interpreters. They conducted confidential interviews with detainees at Salé I and II prisons, prisoners at Tangier and Tétouan, and young offenders at Ain Sebaa, Casablanca, as well as visiting police at Casablanca, local commissariats and the transit zone at Mohamed V international airport, the safeguarding children’s centre at Temara and the psychiatric hospital Ar-Ramzi at Salé.
Some unannounced visits were made to police stations. They met representatives of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, and had a number of working meetings with lawyers, victims’ groups and civil society groups.
The Working Group welcomes the government’s efforts to establish and consolidate a human rights culture in Morocco and hopes that the policy will prevent and stop all violations associated with arbitrary detention. The 2011 Constitution declared the primacy of international human rights law over domestic law, and introduced changes which are encouraging in human rights terms. The Working Group reminds the government that all proposed legal measures must conform strictly to all international conventions to which Morocco is party. The National Council on Human Rights (CNDH) and its constituent groups make a significant contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights, and the Working Group encourages the government and civil society organisations to continue working to strengthen the CNDH and to provide all necessary means to allow it to function well.
However, the Group has a number of concerns.
The anti-terrorist law adopted following the Casablanca attacks of 2003 and which is still in force, is the legal framework for numerous human rights violations. The law must be modified so that criminal allegations are made more precise, time in police custody is reduced and procedural guarantees of fair trial are instituted. We are concerned at the importance given to confessions in preliminary criminal investigations. The Group has been told, through interviews with detainees, that confessions obtained by torture form, in most cases, the basis of guilty verdicts. This was the position in the case of … Ali Aarrass (Opinion No. 25/2013) who was sentenced in November 2011 to 15 years’ imprisonment on the basis of confessions obtained under torture.
On this subject, the Working Group affirms that confessions made in the absence of a lawyer and without due process guarantees cannot be admissible as proof in criminal trials, particularly if the confessions were obtained during the period of police custody.
The Group also regrets the lack of systematic investigation of allegations of torture from numerous detainees and the continued imprisonment of many people sentenced on the sole basis of confessions obtained under duress.
The Working Group recommends as necessary and courageous the reexamination of the sentences of hundreds of prisoners sentenced following unfair trials, usually based on confessions obtained by torture and ill-treatment. It believes that ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture would help in bringing this odious practice to an end, and encourages the authorities to take this step.
Access to a lawyer from the beginning of police custody is a fundamental guarantee of due process. Article 66 of the Penal Code only allows this access halfway through the initial period of custody, makes it subject to the consent of the public prosecutor, limits such access to 30 minutes and denies the lawyer access to the file, and in these respects violates Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
For whatever reason, we ascertained that lawyers do not intervene at all during the period of police custody. We regret that lawyers appointed by the criminal courts are not paid for such access. This does not guarantee an adequate defence. The Group also noted irregularities and instances of negligence in the keeping of police registers. For example, the dates of entry into and departure from police custody are of prime importance in regard to the deprivation of liberty. We noted too much reliance on provisional detention, to which almost half of those deprived of their liberty are subjected. According to Article 9 of the ICCPR, liberty must be the norm and detention the exception. On average 45 percent of those deprived of their liberty are detained before verdict, largely because of the absence of alternatives to detention. This accounts in large part for the excessive prison population noted by the Working Group.
On the 17th June 2013, the International State Crime Initiative (ISCI) and the London Friends of Ali Aarrass held the UK premiere of the new documentary by Moroccan playwright and film-maker, Mohamed Ouachen, titled ‘Ali Aarrass pour l’exemple’ (sub-titled in English), at King’s College London. The film documents the story of a Belgian dual national extradited from Spain to Morocco where he was tortured and sentenced to fifteen years in prison at a mockery of a trial. This case has parallels with the case of British Muslim Talha Ahsan, and the documentary ‘Extradition’ by Turab Shah, about the plight of Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan, extradited in 2012 to a US supermax prison in Connecticut, which was also screened.
Panellists at the event included: Victoria Brittain (former associate foreign editor of The Guardian Newspaper), Farida Aarrass (sister of Ali Aarrass), Luk Vervaet (initiator of Free Ali campaign and prison teacher fighting work ban), Hamja Ahsan (brother of Talha Ahsan), and Arun Kundnani (author of, ‘The Muslims are Coming! Islamophobia, extremism, and the domestic War on Terror’ – forthcoming from Verso Books).
For more information about ISCI visit www.statecrime.org. To find out more about Ali Aarrass see www.freeali.eu; and Talha Ahsan at www.freetalha.org Follow on Twitter: @AliAarrass @hamjaaahsan @freetalha
Since the last update, we have been very busy in support of the family of Ali Aarrass, and have now exhausted our funds (bank details below, for those who can make a donation). To give you just some idea of campaigning pressures:
* A British MP’s attempt to visit Ali has been rebuffed by the Moroccan government;
* Ali’s treatment in prison has improved somewhat since his hunger and thirst strike;
* Ali’s Belgian lawyers are tking the Belgian government to court for its failure to offer consular protection;
* the Cassation Court hearing of his appeal is still a remote prospect; and
* Ali’s case gets full-page coverage in leading Belgian daily Le Soir.
MP refused visit
Jeremy Corbyn MP’s request to visit Ali in Sale II prison at the end of September was refused, just days before it was due to take place. The reason given for the refusal was that visits were restricted to family members – an extraordinarily harsh restriction for someone with no family in the country, as the MP observed in his statement. Farida Aarrass and Luk Vervaet were already in Rabat, and Farida managed to visit Ali twice. They also met with the Moroccan Human Rights Commission.
Belgian government in the dock?
Ali’s Belgian lawyers have begun a legal action to compel the Belgian state to provide consular assistance, consistently denied on the basis that he is also a Moroccan national. In August 2013, when Ali looked to be on the point of death after ten days of a thirst strike and nearly four weeks on hunger strike over his arbitrary and oppressive treatment in prison, Belgian foreign minister Reynders wrote to his Moroccan counterpart seeking an assurance that Ali’s human rights and dignity were being respected in prison. That intervention had immediate effects, with the harshest restrictions lifted and the Moroccan Human Rights Council allowed access to Ali. The Foreign Ministry in Brussels claims to be monitoring the case and following up on Moroccan promises. But it still denies that Ali has the right to consular assistance, and that is what Ali’s lawyers want to challenge – not just for Ali but for all the other dual nationals held in north African prisons.
Ali’s appeal to Morocco’s highest court, which cites many serious irregularities in his trial, shows no sign of being heard over a year after the appeal court upheld his conviction – and until it is heard, Ali cannot seek transfer to a Belgian prison to serve out his sentence.
On 1 October, Belgian daily Le Soir carried a full-page article on Ali, headed ‘Is Belgium going to concern itself with Ali Aarrass? It features horrific drawings of some of the ways Ali was tortured, and reports sympathetically on his case and the Belgian government’s failure to protect him. The paper has taken up Ali’s case before, and its intervention has helped bring it to a wider audience.
The legal costs continue to mount, and the fares for visits to Ali in prison are a huge burden on his family. Any financial contributions would be very welcome indeed. You can do an electronic bank transfer to the Friends of Ali Aarrass, account number 65583960; sort code 089299.
My very dear friends,
The long-awaited phone call from Ali Aarrass finally came on Wednesday evening, 7 August 2013, at 18.53.
Ali made an official announcement that he was ending his hunger strike. He was with a member of the National Human Rights Committee (CNDH) who asked to speak to me, and promised that Ali’s rights would be respected, that it was the Committee’s mission to monitor this and that an agreement had been reached with the prison authorities. A written declaration was to be prepared in French, setting out all the demands for which Ali had undertaken the strike, the fact that he was only asking for his rights, for nothing out of the ordinary. After reading, it would be signed by the three parties: the prison authorities, the CNDH and Ali himself.
Ali then told me that he was ending the hunger strike. You can imagine our joy!
That said, the press release has not yet been prepared, but we have the promise of the CNDH that it would be settled in a short time and that Ali already enjoys his rights. I asked the CNDH representative how Ali was. His health? He told me that Ali is getting better and has been put in the care of the prison doctors.
Ali expressed infinite gratitude to those who have mobilised in Belgiaum and everywhere in the world to support his struggle. He wishes you all a very good end of Ramadan holiday.
For our part, as agreed we are stopping the action ‘One hour for Ali’ and once again thank everyone who took part. Their presence was a huge comfort to us.
I ask everyone to continue to write to Ali, particularly now that we have a guarantee that he will be able to read his letters.
I’ll be visiting my brother in the next two weeks. With the support committee, I will invite everyone to an evening to thank you all on my return from Morocco, when we will discuss how to continue the struggle for his release and his return to us.
(Translation : Frances Webber.
At this occasion, we would like to thank the London Friends of Ali Aarrass (email@example.com) and the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) for their relentless support in the campaign to free Ali Aarrass.)
Didier Reynders writes to his Moroccan colleague about the detainee at Salé
The deputy prime minister and minister for foreign affairs, Didier Reynders, has asked the Moroccan authorities to keep the Belgian authorities informed about Ali Aarrass’ state of health and to confirm that he has access to medical assistance. Reynders wishes to assure himself that Mr Aarrass benefits from detention conditions which conform to respect for human dignity and international humanitarian law. Ali Aarrass has dual Belgian and Moroccan nationality, and is currently detained at Salé prison, Morocco, pursuant to a 12-year sentence imposed by the Rabat court of appeal in connection with terrorism.
In a letter of 5 August to his Moroccan counterpart, minister Reynders pointed out that in accordance with normal practice, Belgium does not intervene with consular assistance to dual nationals, and this action by the minister is not consular assistance but is justified by the concern of Belgium that human rights and dignity are respected. The minister has also emphasised that there is no question of Belgium contesting the decision of the Rabat court.
Hendrik Van de Velde +32 477 40 32 12,
Joren Vandeweyer +32 473 73 05 94,
6 August 2013
Didier Reynders’ letter is an unprecedented victory for Ali Aarrass, his family and his supporters. We congratulate Ali Aarrass for his courage, and we thank the hundreds of democrats in Belgium and across Europe who have mobilised on his behalf.
The minister’s letter demands ‘access to medical assistance’ and ‘detention conditions in conformity with respect for human dignity and international humanitarian law’. This is just what Ali and all his friends have been demanding! A quick review of the past five years of conversations with different foreign ministers, and their blank, brick-wall responses to our appeals, demonstrates the importance of this official action.
The Free Ali Campaign will continue the struggle for consular protection for Ali Aarrass and for all Belgian-Moroccan dual nationals. We will continue to demand the release of Ali Aarrass, cleared of charges in Spain, tortured in Morocco (see UN Special Rapporteur Juan Mendez’ report), and convicted solely on torture evidence. We recall that Ali Aarrass has always seen, and continues to see his struggle as a struggle for the rights of all prisoners. In this context, we support the appeal of Human Rights Watch for the release of all the remaining prisoners convicted in the Belliraj trials and of all political prisoners in Morocco.
Luk Vervaet and Farida Aarrass
For the campaign
Free Ali www.freeali.eu,