Shadow of Impunity: Torture in Morocco and Western Sahara

May 19, 2015

Shadow of Impunity: Torture in Morocco and Western Sahara

Beatings, stress positions, asphyxiation, simulated drowning, psychological and sexual violence are among an array of torture techniques used by Moroccan security forces to extract “confessions” to crimes or silence activists and crush dissent, according to a new Amnesty International report published today.

The report, Shadow of Impunity: Torture in Morocco and Western Sahara, reveals a darker reality to the liberal image presented by Morocco’s leaders when in 2011 they responded to popular uprisings in the region by promising to pursue a raft of progressive reforms and a new constitution prohibiting torture.

The report draws on 173 cases of alleged torture and other ill-treatment of men, women and children by police and security forces between 2010 and 2014. Torture victims include students, political activists with left-wing or Islamist affiliations and supporters of self-determination for Western Sahara as well as people suspected of terrorism or ordinary crimes.

The report shows people at risk of torture from the moment of arrest and throughout police custody. Too often, courts turn a blind eye to complaints and hand down torture- tainted convictions.

Some who dare to complain and seek justice are even prosecuted for “slander” and “false reporting”. Impunity continues unabated, in spite of the authorities’ pledges to uphold human rights.

Tortured in detention -forced to “confess”

The report documents brutal torture techniques security forces use on detainees in custody, such as stress positions like the “roast chicken” -suspending detainees from an iron bar by their wrists and knees.

Mohamed Ali Saidi, 27, was one of several Sahrawis who reported that police tortured him in custody after arresting him in relation to protests in Laayoune, Western Sahara, days earlier in May 2013. He told Amnesty International:

“They threatened to rape me with a bottle –they brought the bottle in front of me. It was a glass bottle of Pom’s [popular Moroccan soft drink]... They whipped the soles of my feet with ropes, while I was suspended in the roast chicken position, and they also dipped our feet in iced water... While I was suspended in the roast chicken position, they put a towel in my mouth and choked me by pouring water up my nose. Then they poured urine. Then they... took my clothes off except my underwear, and whipped me on the thighs with belts.”

French-Algerian national Abdelaziz Redaouia, 34, said officers tortured him for refusing to sign an interrogation report incriminating him in drug offences after his arrest in December 2013:

“I refused to sign the interrogation report, so they hit me again. They hooked a handcuff inside my cheek and yanked at it like they were going to pierce my skin.”

He said the officers forced his head under water, used a car battery to give him electric shocks on his genitals, and beat the soles of his feet while he was suspended.

Protesters and bystanders abused

The report says security forces display a brazen sense of impunity, beating protesters in plain sight to send a warning message to others. It documents dozens of cases of police brutality against demonstrators and bystanders in broad daylight and in vehicles. Student demonstrator Abderrazak Jkaou said police beat him unconscious on campus on the eve of a protest in Kenitra:

“Some carried long wooden sticks. They beat me from head to toe. Then a plainclothes officer gripped a handcuff in his fist and punched me between the eyes. I was knocked out and fell. Then the others came and stamped on my bladder until I urinated. They beat me until I passed out, then threw me outside the campus, as a warning to other students. The students thought I was dead.”

While some who reported being arrested and tortured were known activists, others were mere bystanders. Khadija, whose name has been changed for her protection, described how police assaulted her as she walked past a campus protest in Fes in 2014: