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Morocco

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities during the year.

According to the annual report from the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances, from May 2018 to May 2019, the country had 153 outstanding cases of forced disappearances between 1956 and 1992, seven fewer than at the beginning of the reporting period. The National Council on Human Rights (CNDH), a publicly funded national human rights institution, reported that as of July, six cases of forced disappearances between 1956 and 1992 remained unresolved. The CNDH continued to cooperate with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on unresolved cases of disappearance. According to the government, the working group transmitted no new allegations of enforced disappearances. Also, according to the government, no prosecutions were recorded in the first half of the year regarding past enforced disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The constitution and the law prohibit such practices, and the government denied it authorizes the use of torture.

Although government institutions and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to receive reports about the mistreatment of individuals in official custody, reports of torture have declined over the last several years. According to the government, 385 accusations of mistreatment by police were recorded, of which 336 complaints were processed and 49 complaints were under investigation. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there were eight complaints of torture or degrading treatment filed with the Prosecutor General’s Office during the year. An investigation into the case of Said Feryakh concluded that the detainee had not been subjected to any treatment outside the legal framework by personnel at Souk Larbaa prison during his incarceration. According to the General Delegation for Prison Administration and Reintegration (DGAPR) Feryakh was inciting inmates to revolt and undertake collective action that could jeopardize security and disrupt order in the institution.

As of year’s end, there were continuing investigations by the National Brigade of the Judicial Police of six security officers for use of violence in the course of their duties. The CNDH reported it opened 20 investigations into complaints of torture or degrading treatment between January 1 and August 31.

In the event of an accusation of torture, the law requires judges to refer a detainee to a forensic medical expert when the detainee or lawyer requests it, or if judges notice suspicious physical marks on a detainee. In some cases judges refused to order a medical assessment when a detainee made an allegation of abuse. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, human rights NGOs, and media documented cases of authorities’ failure to implement provisions of the antitorture law, including failure to conduct medical examinations when detainees alleged torture.

Reports of mistreatment occurred most frequently in pretrial detention. There were also accusations that security officials subjected Western Sahara proindependence protesters to degrading treatment during or following demonstrations or protests calling for the release of alleged political prisoners. OHCHR noted in March it had received reports of unnecessary and disproportionate use of force by security forces to disperse protests.

On March 17, a video posted on social media networks showed a member of the security services in civilian clothes assaulting teachers during a union demonstration organized in Rabat. The individual, identified as Sahm Bouhfid, was detained on March 18 for violence, assault and battery, misuse of office, and interference with duties of a public office. On April 5, Bouhfid was sentenced to one year in prison. On July 26, his sentence was reduced to eight months on appeal.

According to Amnesty International, on March 25 Moroccan police in Western Sahara detained and allegedly tortured 15-year-old Mustapha Razouk for peacefully protesting the detention of another activist. According to Razouk’s testimony, authorities beat Razouk, poured boiling melted plastic on him, and suspended him from the ceiling. He alleged that he was not given access to a doctor during the first three days in custody and was forced to sign a police report without being allowed to read it. Razouk was sentenced to one month in prison for participating in a protest and throwing stones at a police vehicle. He was released on April 26. There was no information on official investigation into Razouk’s torture claims.

In April a female teacher accused law enforcement officials in Rabat of sexually assaulting her during a teachers’ demonstration calling for maintaining retirement benefits. According to the government, the Prosecutor General’s Office offered to provide medical exams to 21 other demonstrators who said they also had been sexually assaulted during the demonstration. The investigation was still pending as of year’s end.

In January 2020 the spouse of Abdelqader Belliraj, who was serving a life sentence on terrorism-related charges, told Human Rights Watch (HRW) that Belliraj has been deprived of contact with other inmates since 2016 and was kept in confinement 23 hours a day. According to media reports, the DGAPR stated Belliraj received an hour break each day that allowed for interactions with other inmates and was allowed family visits and access to a telephone. Belliraj claimed he was convicted based on confessions obtained under police torture. Belliraj was transferred at his request to a prison in Marrakech in March.

In Western Sahara, human rights organizations continued to track alleged abusers from local security forces who remained in leadership positions or who had been transferred to other positions. International and local human rights organizations claimed that authorities dismissed many complaints of abuse and relied only on police statements. Government officials generally did not provide information on the outcome of complaints.

In March 2020, HRW published a report of police violence against two Western Sahara independence activists, Walid el-Batal and Yahdhih el-Ghazal, in Smara in June 2019. According to HRW’s report, Moroccan security forces attempted to prohibit the men from attending an event for activist Salah Labsir who was serving a four-year prison sentence on charges of premeditated violence against police and destruction of public goods. OHCHR requested an investigation into el-Batal’s case, raising concerns regarding human rights abuses. The National Police Force (DGSN) opened a judicial investigation into this incident. According to the DGAPR, six police officers were prosecuted following the dissemination on social networks of a video illustrating the circumstances of arrest.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were two allegations submitted during the year of sexual exploitation and abuse by Moroccan peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions. The first concerned transactional sex in late 2020 in the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The second concerned attempted rape of a child and soliciting transactional sex with an adult in the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic. Moroccan and UN Office of Internal Oversight Services investigations into both allegations remained pending.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions improved during the year but in some cases did not meet international standards.

Physical Conditions: The Moroccan Observatory of Prisons (OMP), an NGO focused on the rights of prisoners, continued to report that some prisons were overcrowded and failed to meet local and international standards. In newer prisons pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners were held separately, but in older prisons the two groups remained together.

According to government sources and NGOs, prison overcrowding was also due in large part to an underutilized system of bail or provisional release, a severe backlog in cases, and lack of judicial discretion to reduce the length of prison sentences for specific crimes. Government sources stated that administrative requirements also prevented prison authorities from transferring individuals in pretrial detention or the appeals phase to facilities outside the jurisdiction where their trials were to take place.

As of August 16, there were 37 registered hunger strike cases. On January 20, the families of detainees held for their role in 2016 demonstrations in the Riffian city of al- Hoceima conducted a 48-hour hunger strike to protest detention of their family members Nasser Zafzafi, Nabil Ahmjik, Mohamed Jalloul, Mohammed Hakki, Samir Ighid, Zakaria Adahchour, along with journalists Soulaiman Raissouni, Omar Radi and the academic Maati Monjib. NGOs frequently cited cases where prisoners protested the conditions of their detention with hunger strikes. In February several NGOs reported mistreatment of Mohamed Lamine Hadi after he commenced a hunger strike in a detention center in the Rabat-Tiflet region on January 13 to protest his poor prison conditions, including continued isolation, medical negligence, and deprivation of basic rights. Reports also claimed his family was deprived of visitation rights. The DGAPR investigated the claims and issued a written response that stated the allegations were false.

King Mohammed VI pardoned 4,181 inmates during the calendar year. Of the inmates who received a royal pardon, 17 were Hirak (popular mass protest movement) detainees.

The law provides for the separation of minor prisoners from adult prisoners. In all prisons, officials classify youth offenders into two categories, both of which are separated from other prisoners: minors younger than 18 and offenders between 18 and 20 years old. According to authorities, minors were not held with prisoners older than age 20. The DGAPR had three dedicated juvenile “centers for reform and education” but maintained separate, dedicated youth detention areas for minors in all prisons. The government reported that, in cases where a juvenile court judge ruled detention was necessary, minors younger than 14 were detained separately from minors 15 to 18 years old. A judge must monitor cases monthly of detained minors.

The DGAPR reported there was no discrimination in access to health services or facilities based on gender for female prisoners, who make up just over 2 percent of the prison population. Some officials reported that female inmates often had a harder time accessing gender-specific health specialists such as OB/GYNs than a general physician. Local NGOs asserted that prison facilities did not provide adequate access to health care and did not accommodate the needs of prisoners with disabilities. The DGAPR reported a nurse and a psychologist examined each prisoner on arrival and that prisoners received care upon request. The DGAPR reported conducting extensive COVID-19 tests and medical consultations in prisons.

The DGAPR provided to inmates fresh food, certified by the Ministry of Health as meeting the nutritional needs of the average adult male. According to the DGAPR, the penitentiary system accommodated the special dietary needs of prisoners suffering from illnesses and of prisoners with religious dietary restrictions.

Some human rights activists asserted that the prison administration reserved harsher treatment for Islamists who challenged the king’s religious authority and for those accused of “questioning the territorial integrity of the country.” The DGAPR denied that any prisoners received differential treatment and asserted that all prisoners received equal treatment in accordance with the law.

Families of detainees from Western Sahara alleged that they faced unusually harsh prison conditions. The DGAPR contested this claim and asserted that prisoners in Western Sahara and Sahrawi prisoners in the rest of the country received the same treatment as all other prisoners under its authority.

On September 26, authorities released journalist and Sahrawi activist Mohamed al-Bambary after six years in detention. According to the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Center, he had been detained with 45 other prisoners in a cell that was 25 feet by 18.5 feet.

Administration: While authorities generally permitted relatives and friends to visit prisoners, there were reports that authorities denied visiting privileges in some instances. The DGAPR assigned each prisoner to a risk classification level, which determined visiting privileges. According to its prisoner classification guide, the DGAPR placed restrictions on the level of visits, recreation, and types of educational programming for higher-risk prisoners. At all classifications, prisoners may receive visits, although the length, frequency, and number of visitors may vary. Most prisons assigned each prisoner a designated “visit day” to manage the number of visits to the prison. The DGAPR authorized religious observances and services provided by religious leaders for all prisoners, including religious minorities. To limit the spread of COVID-19 during the pandemic, DGAPR suspended family and lawyer visits but increased phone time privileges for inmates. The DGAPR put in place several measures such as cleaning and periodic disinfection while providing officials and inmates with means of prevention, including hydroalcohol gels and masks.

The CNDH and the DGAPR investigated allegations of inhuman conditions. The CNDH and the DGAPR effectively served the function of an ombudsman, and a system of “letterboxes” operated in prisons to facilitate prisoners’ right to submit complaints regarding their imprisonment. Detainees could submit complaints without censorship to the DGAPR Delegate General’s Office for processing, as well as to the CNDH.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted some NGOs with a human rights mandate to conduct unaccompanied monitoring visits. Government policy also permitted academics, as well as NGOs that provided social, educational, or religious services to prisoners, to enter prison facilities. According to prison officials, academics and various NGOs conducted 49 visits through June. The OMP conducted seven monitoring visits through June. The CNDH conducted 137 monitoring visits during the year.

Between January 1 and August 31, the CNDH’s three commissions in Western Sahara carried out nine visits to prisons, including two visits in Laayoune-Sakia and Smara to focus on the prevention of COVID-19 in prisons. The CNDH observed the DGAPR took steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in prisons, including the establishment of a digital platform to provide remote psychological support to prison staff and detainees, limiting the number of family visits and raising awareness through an information campaign among detainees. The Laayoune branch of the CNDH conducted monitoring visits and found the local prison in Dakhla remained overcrowded and insufficiently equipped to provide appropriate living conditions to the detainees. The CNDH stated the objectives of the visits were to prevent practices likely to lead directly or indirectly to any form of torture and mistreatment, to verify whether the preventive measures recommended by the public authorities against COVID-19 were in place in compliance with international standards, and to engage in a constructive dialogue with the authorities responsible.

Improvements: According to the DGAPR, construction for five new prisons began in the cities of Assilah, El Jadida, Dakhla, Laayoune and Tamesna. The Assilah prison opened in December. The DGAPR reported the penitentiaries of Outita and Elksar El Kebir, where detainees were obligated to work on farms, closed in January due to dilapidated and unhealthy conditions. The Mohamed VI Foundation offered integrated juvenile re-integration program in 60 penitentiaries.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge in court the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention. Observers indicated that police did not always respect these provisions or consistently observe due process, particularly during or in the wake of protests. According to local NGOs and associations, police sometimes arrested persons without warrants or while wearing civilian clothing.

No official from the DGSN has been investigated for arbitrary detention related to the application of measures pertaining to the state of health emergency.

Individuals have the right to challenge the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and request compensation by submitting a complaint to the court.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

By law police may arrest an individual after a general prosecutor issues an oral or written warrant. The law permits authorities to deny defendants’ access to counsel or family members during the initial 96 hours of detention under terrorism-related laws or during the initial 24 hours of detention for all other charges, with an optional extension of 12 hours with the approval of the Prosecutor’s Office. Authorities did not consistently respect these limits. Reports of abuse most referred to these initial detention periods when police interrogated detainees. The government continued to require new police officers to receive security and human rights training facilitated by civil society.

In ordinary criminal cases, the law requires police to notify a detainee’s next of kin of an arrest immediately after the above-mentioned period of incommunicado detention, unless arresting authorities applied for and received an extension from a magistrate. Police did not consistently respect this requirement. Authorities sometimes delayed notifying the family or did not inform lawyers promptly of the date of arrest, and the families and lawyers were not able to monitor compliance with detention limits and treatment of the detainee.

The law states, “in the case of a flagrant offense, the Judicial Police Officer has the right to keep the suspect in detention for 48 hours. If strong and corroborated evidence is raised against this person, [the officer] can keep them in custody for a maximum of three days with the written authorization of the prosecutor.” According to the Antiterrorism Act, a terrorism suspect can be detained for up to 12 days. The suspect has a right to a 30-minute visit by a lawyer, but this visit can be delayed until the end of the 12-day detention period. In non-terrorism-related cases the lawyer’s visit must occur no later than the midpoint of the detention period. NGO observers and human rights activists widely assessed that the law on counterterrorism is inconsistent with international standards.

At the conclusion of the initial detention period in police custody, a detainee must be presented to a prosecutor, who may issue provisional charges and order additional investigation by an investigating judge in preparation for trial. The investigating judge has four months, plus a possible one-month extension, to interview the individual and determine what charges, if any, to file for trial. An individual may be detained in investigatory detention or at liberty during this phase. At the end of five months (if an extension is granted), the investigative judge must either file charges, decline to file charges and drop the case, or release the individual pending an additional investigation and a determination of whether to file. Authorities generally followed these timelines.

NGO sources stated that some judges were reticent to use alternative sentences permitted under the law, such as provisional release. The law does not require written authorization for release from detention. In some instances judges released defendants on their own recognizance. A bail bond system exists; the bond may be in the form of property or of cash paid to the court. The amount of the bond is subject to the judge’s discretion, depending on the offense. Bail may be requested at any time before the verdict. According to the law, defendants have the right to attorneys; if a defendant cannot afford private counsel, authorities must provide a court-appointed attorney if the criminal penalty exceeds five years in prison. Authorities did not always provide effective and timely counsel.

Arbitrary Arrest: Security forces often detained groups of individuals, took them to a police station, questioned them for several hours, and released them without charge.

Under the penal code, any public official who orders an arbitrary detention may be punished by demotion and, if it is done for private interest, by imprisonment for 10 years to life. An official who neglects to refer a claimed or observed arbitrary or illegal detention to his superiors may be punished by demotion. During the year no security officials were investigated for arbitrary arrest associated with enforcement of the shelter-in-place protocol due to COVID-19 restrictions. There was no information available as to whether these provisions were applied during the year.

On December 15, the Court of Cassation approved the extradition to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) of Uyghur journalist Idriss Aishan, who was arrested on July 19 upon his arrival to Morocco based on a 2017 INTERPOL Red Notice issued at the request of the PRC. Reporters without Borders and other human rights NGOs reported that the notice was a politically motivated instance of transnational repression targeting a perceived dissident. Even after the warrant was withdrawn in August, Aishan remained in detention. Aishan was pursuing an appeal process in the Moroccan courts.

Following alleged mistreatment while in detention, prisoner Mohamed Lamine Hadi who was arrested for participating in the 2010 Gdeim Izik camp protest, reportedly began a hunger strike on January 13. OHCHR stated Haddi took this action to protest his detention and isolation as arbitrary. The government denied Haddi undertook a hunger strike. On January 25, Haddi told his family that he had received death threats from the prison director of the Tifelt 2 prison. He was then not heard from until March, when his mother reported Haddi had called her claiming he was in poor health and had been subject to forced feeding.

OHCHR noted in March it had received reports of arbitrary arrests and detention of Sahrawi activists.

Pretrial Detention: Although the government claimed authorities generally brought accused persons to trial within two months, prosecutors may request as many as five additional two-month extensions of pretrial detention. Government officials attributed delays to the large backlog of cases in the justice system caused by a lack of resources devoted to the justice system, both human and infrastructure; the lack of plea bargaining as an option for prosecutors, lengthening the amount of time to process cases on average; the rare use of mediation and other out-of-court settlement mechanisms allowed by law; and the absence of legal authority for alternative sentencing, among other issues. The government reported that, as of November approximately 43 percent of detainees were in pretrial detention awaiting their first trial. In some cases defendants were held in pretrial detention for longer than their eventual sentence, particularly for misdemeanors.

Journalist Suleimane Raissouni was held in pretrial detention for more than a year before he was sentenced on July 9 to five years in prison on sexual assault charges. International NGOs stated trials had procedural flaws, the inability of defense teams to call witnesses, and the court denying the defense lawyers from fully presenting their client’s’ defense.

Journalist Suleimane Raissouni was held in pretrial detention for more than a year before he was sentenced on July 9 to five years in prison on sexual assault charges. International NGOs stated trials had procedural flaws, the inability of defense teams to call witnesses, and the court denying the defense lawyers from fully presenting their client’s’ defense.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government generally did not implement the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were reports of government corruption in the executive, judicial, and legislative branches during the year.

Corruption: Observers generally considered corruption a persistent problem, with insufficient governmental checks and balances to reduce its occurrence. There were reports of petty government corruption.

The National Authority for Probity, Prevention, and Fighting Corruption (INPPLC) is responsible for combating corruption. In addition to the INPPLC, the Ministry of Justice and the High Audit Institution (government accountability court) had jurisdiction over corruption issues, and the latter has authority to conduct investigations.

The Ministry of Justice ran a hotline for the public to report instances of corruption. As of August the government reported there were 9,550 calls to the hotline alleging corruption that resulted in 39 cases in court during the year. The government also reported 90 percent of the calls were inquiries regarding corruption cases in trial, rather than new reports of alleged corruption. The Prosecutor General’s Office in the Ministry of Justice reported it registered 950 calls to its anticorruption hotline from private citizens during the year; the office stated there were convictions against the officials involved in 16 cases.

In February 2020 a court in Marrakesh sentenced Khalid Ouaya, the former Urban Agency director in Marrakech, to 10 years in prison and one million Moroccan dirhams ($104,000) for receiving kickbacks from land deals. On June 24, he was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment and fined 360,000 Moroccan dirhams ($38,000). On August 2, Ouaya appealed the verdict; the appeal was pending at year’s end.

On March 5, media reported a collusion scheme among judges, prosecutors, clerks, and bailiffs of the Casablanca Court of First Instance, legal representatives of public and private creditors, and service providers that involved thousands of suits being filed against citizens without their knowledge. The Prosecutor General’s Office reportedly opened an investigation into the case.

The government claimed to investigate corruption and other instances of police malfeasance through an internal mechanism. Nevertheless, international and domestic human rights organizations claimed that authorities dismissed many complaints of abuse and relied only on police statements.

The judicial police investigated allegations, including those against security forces, and advised the court of their findings. Cases at times languished in the investigatory or trial phases.

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