a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
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, 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 remain unresolved in Morocco. The CNDH continued to cooperate with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on unresolved cases of disappearance. The CNDH implemented arbitration decisions issued from January to July 2019 for 624 beneficiaries who will benefit from financial compensation or social reintegration services for gross human rights violations, as determined by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in place from December 2004 to November 2005. The individuals include 514 victims (or their living beneficiaries) who will receive financial compensation totaling 56.5 million dirhams ($5.65 million) and 110 persons who will benefit from social reintegration services totaling 27.5 million dirhams ($2.75 million).
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. On June 10, Minister of State for Human Rights and Relations with Parliament Mustafa Ramid said that systematic torture no longer exists in the country and that reported cases of torture were isolated. Ramid made the remarks while responding to two questions submitted by the Authenticity and Modernity and Justice and Development Parties in parliament’s Chamber of Representatives about the implementation of recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
On June 26, the president of the Prosecutor General’s Office released an official report on penal code implementation in 2018 that indicated the continued existence of cases of torture of citizens. The report noted that in 2018, 36 complaints of torture were filed, of which 22 were fully processed and resulted in two judicial cases in which police agents were prosecuted for violence. The sentences, however, were not reported. There were 21 complaints of torture or degrading treatment were filed with the Prosecutor General’s Office, of which four involved allegations made against prison officials. Of those four, one case was found to be not credible and the remaining three were still under investigation at year’s end.
From January to June, the National Police Force’s (Direction Generale de la Surete Nationale–DGSN) internal mechanism for investigation of torture and degrading treatment addressed eight cases in which various officials were reprimanded for degrading treatment of detainees through administrative sanctions. In the same period, the DGSN transferred 21 other cases implicating 21 police officials to the Prosecutor General’s Office. The Prosecutor General’s Office initiated legal proceedings for at least one of the cases, and the outcomes of the cases were unknown at year’s end.
On January 14, the Kenitra Court of Appeals convicted a royal gendarme to a one-year suspended sentence and a fine of 5,000 dirhams ($500) for raping a detainee with a baton in February 2018.
CNDH reported it opened investigations into 12 complaints of allegations of torture perpetrated by government authorities from January to July. It was unclear whether the cases reported by the CNDH were included in the DGSN statistics.
The DGSN reported during the year that a court passed sentences regarding 2017 allegations of torture against three police officers in three cases. According to the government, the court sentenced one officer to six months in prison and sentenced the same officer and the other officers to a six-month suspended sentence; the charges were the use of torture. After sentencing, one DGSN official was dismissed on early retirement and the two remaining officers were suspended from work for six months.
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 have refused to order a medical assessment when a detainee made an allegation of abuse. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, human rights nongovernmental organizations (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. On September 21, the CNDH staffed the National Preventative Mechanism (NPM) authorized by parliament in 2018. The CNDH’s NPM was established to comply with the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture, with the objective of examining the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty, with a view to strengthening their protection against torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.
On April 26, Amnesty International reported that journalist Hamid El Mahdaoui, sentenced to three years in prison by the Casablanca Court of Appeals on April 5 for “failing to report a threat to the security of the state,” was held in solitary confinement for 470 days. The Prison Administration (DGAPR) disputed the allegations and reported El Mahdaoui was held with other cellmates and had weekly visiting rights with family.
In 2017 the CNDH referred forensic reports to the Ministry of Justice based on allegations of torture or mistreatment from Hirak movement prisoners. The prisoners were arrested for their involvement in a series of protests in the northern Rif region in 2016 and 2017. They were found guilty of damaging public property, injuring law enforcement members, and threatening the stability of the state and were sentenced to up to 20 years before a criminal court in June 2018. In 2017 a court ordered the investigation into allegations of abuse during pretrial detention, and in 2018 a judicial forensic medical examiner concluded that three of the 22 individuals had been exposed to physical violence. The courts, however, did not take further action on the cases involving the three individuals. In July the Inter-Ministerial Delegate for Human Rights (DIDH) released a report stating the courts dismissed the allegations of torture during pretrial detention by prisoners, due to a lack of evidence. According to Amnesty International, the alleged mistreatment during pretrial detention in 2017 included beatings and suffocation. The same report raised several cases where Hirak movement prisoners said they signed confessions under duress due to intimidation and the threat of rape and violence by police officers. The DIDH report did not specify if the courts investigated the allegations of threats and intimidation. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) raised concerns throughout the year over the courts’ dismissal of prisoners’ allegations of torture and confessions given under duress during pretrial detention. The CNDH did not observe torture or mistreatment during monitoring visits of the Hirak movement prisoners during the year.
According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were two allegations submitted during the year of rape of a child in January through March and in April, respectively, by Moroccan peacekeepers deployed to the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MINUSCO). The government reported the former peacekeeper accused of crimes in the January case was in pretrial detention while the government had an active investigation on the allegations made in the second case. Morocco and the United Nations jointly investigated two allegations submitted in 2018 against Moroccan peacekeepers and determined one case was substantiated as an exploitative relationship that transpired in 2017. The UN repatriated the assailant, and the government of Morocco issued a 60-day prison sentence.
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 July the OMP also reported prisons in Morocco were understaffed. In the new prisons, pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners were held separately. As the DGAPR completed construction of each new prison, it closed older prisons and moved inmates to the new locations. Older prisons remained overcrowded, however, resulting in authorities frequently holding pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners together. According to government sources and NGOs, prison overcrowding was 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.
The law provides for the separation of minors. In all prisons, officials classify youth offenders into two categories, both of which are separated from other prisoners: Minors under 18 and youthful offenders 18 to 20 years old. According to authorities, minors are not held with prisoners older than 20 years. 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 that detention was necessary, minors younger than 14 were detained separately from minors 15 to 18 years old. In cases where a minor is ordered to be detained, a judge must follow up on a monthly basis.
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. Local NGOs asserted that prison facilities did not provide adequate access to health care and did not accommodate the needs of prisoners with disabilities, although government sources stated that a nurse and a psychologist examined each prisoner on arrival and that prisoners received care upon request. According to the DGAPR, prisoners received six general and one dental consultation with a medical professional per year in addition to access to psychological or other specialist care and all care was provided free of charge.
During a monitoring visit to a new prison in Bouizakrane, the CNDH’s Guelmim/Oued Noun regional branch raised concerns with the DGAPR that the reception space for visitors was not accessible for persons with disabilities.
The DGAPR provided food to inmates at no cost, certified by the Ministry of Health as meeting the nutritional needs of the average adult male. Prison commissaries stocked fresh fruit and vegetables for purchase. According to the DGAPR, the penitentiary system accommodated the special dietary needs of prisoners suffering from illnesses and of prisoners with religious dietary restrictions.
NGOs frequently cited cases where prisoners protested the conditions of their detention with hunger strikes. According to Amnesty International, prisoners launched hunger strikes to protest prison conditions, including poor hygiene and sanitation, inadequate health care, overcrowding, and detention far from their families, as well as limited visiting rights and access to education. The CNDH and the DGAPR regularly addressed requests for transfer based on family proximity, and the DGAPR sometimes granted such requests. At other times, the DGAPR informed the detainee that the requested transfer was not possible, often because of overcrowding at the requested location.
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 Prison Act.
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 the DGAPR’s 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 authorizes religious observances and services provided by religious leaders for all prisoners, including religious minorities.
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. The CNDH received 29 complaints alleging authorities’ mistreatment of prisoners. The Guelmim/Oued Noun regional branch of CNDH received reports from prisoners that individualized abuses by prison officials persisted, such as beating, slapping, and discrimination in providing equal access to some services, such as use of the telephone. They also alleged that the prison administration refused to receive complaints from prisoners. The regional head of DGAPR rejected credibility of allegations of abuse in the Guelmim prison. The DGAPR reported that it conducted investigations into 304 complaints of mistreatment by prison personnel nationally. Outcomes of these investigations were unknown at year’s end.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted some NGOs with a human rights mandate to conduct unaccompanied monitoring visits. Government policy 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 779 visits through June. The OMP conducted four monitoring visits through June. The CNDH conducted an estimated 120 monitoring visits this year.
Improvements: To alleviate overcrowding and improve overall conditions, the DGAPR reported there were 29 new prisons built or under construction to international standards. The DGAPR opened a new prison in Tantan, and three more remained under construction (see section 1.c., Physical Conditions). The Mohammed VI Foundation for the Reinsertion of Prisoners provided educational and professional training in 59 prisons to inmates approaching their release date. The DGAPR, in partnership with the CNDH, the Mohammed VI Foundation, and other institutions, continued to fund and manage a radio station launched in 2018 broadcasting out of a prison in Ain Sbaa to prisoners and prison staff throughout the country as an opportunity to discuss culture, education, art, religion, rule of law, and other issues related to prison operations and rehabilitation.
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. 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 provisions. Reports of abuse generally 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 in partnership with 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 abide by this provision. 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.” For common crimes, authorities can extend this 48-hour period twice, for up to six days in detention. Under terrorism-related laws, a prosecutor may renew the initial detention by written authorization for a total detention time of 12 days. According to the Antiterrorism Act, a suspect does not have a right to a lawyer during this time except for a half-hour monitored visit at the midpoint of the 12-day period. Observers widely perceived the 2015 law on counterterrorism as consistent 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 investigatory judge in preparation for trial. The investigative 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 system exists; the deposit may be in the form of property or a sum of money paid to the court as surety to ensure the defendant’s return to future court proceedings. The amount of the deposit is subject to the discretion of the judge, who decides depending on the offense. Bail may be requested at any time before the judgment. According to the law, defendants have the right to attorneys; if a defendant cannot afford private counsel, authorities must provide a court-appointed attorney when 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. There was no information available as to whether these provisions were applied during the year.
On October 25, the Casablanca Court of Appeals lengthened the sentence of Taoufik Bouachrine, a journalist and former editor in chief of the Arabic daily Akhbar al-Yaoum, convicted of rape, sexual assault, and human trafficking, overturning the sentence issued by a court of first instance (trial court) in November 2018. The ruling lengthened Bouachrine’s prison sentence from 12 years to 15 years and raised his total fines from 2,000,000 dirhams ($200,000) to 2,500,000 dirhams ($250,000) to compensate the eight plaintiffs in the case for damages. Although the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention did not question the merits of the charges against Bouachrine, it concluded in January that Bouachrine had been a victim of arbitrary detention and judicial harassment. The government rejected the findings of the working group. Bouachrine and the plaintiffs appealed the Casablanca Court of Appeals sentence, taking the case to the Court of Cassation.
Pretrial Detention: Although the government claimed that authorities generally brought accused persons to trial within two months, prosecutors may request as many as five additional two-month extensions of pretrial detention. Pretrial detentions can last as long as one year; in the past there were reports that authorities routinely held detainees beyond the one-year limit. Government officials attributed delays to the large backlog of cases in the justice system. The government stated that a variety of factors contributed to this backlog, including 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. The government reported that, as of July, 37.9 percent of detainees were in pretrial detention awaiting their first trial. In some cases, detainees received a sentence shorter than the time they spent in pretrial detention, particularly for misdemeanors. The June 26 report by the president of the Public Prosecutor’s Office (see section 1.c.) indicated that pretrial detention continued to account for a large portion of the prison population. It noted, however, that progress had been made in lowering the rate of pretrial detention by 1 percent to 39 percent at end of 2018.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and, as in previous years, NGOs asserted that corruption and extrajudicial influence weakened judicial independence. The Supreme Judicial Council, mandated by the 2011 constitution, manages the courts and day-to-day judicial affairs in place of the Ministry of Justice. The president of the Court of Cassation (the highest court of appeals) chairs the 20-member body. Additional members include the president of the First Chamber of the Court of Cassation; the prosecutor general (equivalent of the attorney general); the mediator (national ombudsman); the president of the CNDH; 10 members elected by the country’s judges; and five members appointed by the king. While the government’s stated aim in creating the council was to improve judicial independence, its effect on judicial independence was not clear since its inception as an independent entity in late 2017. According to media reports and human rights activists, outcomes of trials in which the government had a strong interest, such as those touching on Islam as it related to political life and national security, the legitimacy of the monarchy, and Western Sahara, sometimes appeared predetermined.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial with the right of appeal, but this did not always occur. The law presumes that defendants are innocent. Defendants are informed promptly of potential charges after the initial arrest and investigation period. Defendants are then informed of final charges at the conclusion of the full investigatory period, which may last several months. Trials are conducted in Arabic, and foreigners have the right to request interpretation if they do not speak Arabic.
Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and to consult in a timely manner with an attorney. Defendants have the right to refuse to participate in their trial, and a judge may decide to continue the proceedings in the defendant’s absence while providing a detailed summary to the defendant. Authorities often denied lawyers timely access to their clients and, in some cases, lawyers met their clients only at the first hearing before the judge. Authorities are required to provide attorneys in cases where the potential sentence is greater than five years, if the defendant is unable to afford one. Publicly provided defense attorneys were often poorly paid and neither properly trained in matters pertaining to juveniles nor provided to defendants in a timely fashion. The appointment process for public defenders was lengthy, often resulting in a defendant arriving to trial before a court-appointed attorney was designated. In these cases, the judge may ask any attorney present to represent the defendant. This practice often resulted in inadequate representation. Many NGOs provided attorneys for vulnerable individuals (minors, refugees, victims of domestic violence), who frequently did not have the means to pay. Such resources were limited and specific to larger cities.
The law permits defense attorneys to question witnesses. Despite the provisions of the law, some judges reportedly denied defense requests to question witnesses or to present mitigating witnesses or evidence.
The law forbids judges from admitting confessions made under duress without additional corroborating evidence, clarified government officials. NGOs reported that the judicial system often relied on confessions for the prosecution of criminal cases, and authorities pressured investigators to obtain a confession from suspects in order for prosecution to proceed. HRW and local NGOs charged that judges, at their discretion, sometimes decided cases based on forced confessions. According to the government, in order to move away from a confession-based judicial system, cases based solely on confessions and without any other substantiating evidence are not accepted by the courts.
According to the DGAPR, during the year the forensics unit in partnership with international technical experts trained judges and public prosecutors on forensics evidence for prosecutions. Since 2016 the National Police have had evidence preservation centers throughout the country to secure evidence collected at crime scenes and to ensure compliance with chain of custody procedures. According to the Ministry of Justice, legal clerks manage the evidence preservation centers and coordinate the court’s and the defense’s access to evidence.
In April the Casablanca Court of Appeals upheld the convictions of 42 prisoners detained in connection with the Rif Hirak protest movement. The sentences ranged from fines to 20 years in prison. According to Amnesty International, HRW, and other human rights activists, the charges against the prisoners were disproportionate to the alleged crimes and the courts did not provide fair judicial proceedings (see section 1.c.). For example, Amnesty International, HRW, and other human rights groups raised concerns over the courts’ dismissal of prisoners’ allegations of torture and use of confessions alleged to have been given under duress during pretrial detention as evidence in the trials.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
The law does not define or recognize the concept of a political prisoner. The government did not consider any of its prisoners to be political prisoners and stated that it had charged or convicted all individuals in prison under criminal law. Criminal law covers nonviolent advocacy and dissent, such as insulting police in songs or “defaming Morocco’s sacred values” by denouncing the king and regime during a public demonstration. NGOs, including the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH), Amnesty International, and Sahrawi organizations, asserted that the government imprisoned persons for political activities or beliefs under the cover of criminal charges.
HRW stated that on July 25, even though the country’s law does not define or recognize the concept of a political prisoner, there were “a lot of prisoners in Morocco, especially those arrested during the Hirak movement, that have been treated unjustly.”
Some NGOs alleged that a group of 24 Sahrawis, convicted in 2017 in connection with the deaths of 11 members of Moroccan security forces during the 2010 dismantlement of the Gdeim Izik protest camp and subsequent violence in Laayoune, Western Sahara, were political prisoners.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
Although individuals have access to civil courts for lawsuits relating to human rights violations and have filed lawsuits, such lawsuits were frequently unsuccessful due to the courts’ lack of independence in politically sensitive cases or lack of impartiality stemming from extrajudicial influence and corruption. The Supreme Judicial Council is tasked with ensuring ethical behavior by judicial personnel (see section 4). There are administrative as well as judicial remedies for alleged wrongs. Authorities sometimes failed to respect court orders in a timely manner.
The Institution of the Mediator (national ombudsman) helped to resolve civil matters that did not clear the threshold to merit involvement of the judiciary, including cases involving civil society registration issues. Although it faced backlogs, it gradually expanded the scope of its activities and subjected complaints to in-depth investigation. The mediator retransmitted to the CNDH for resolution cases specifically related to allegations of human rights abuses by authorities. The CNDH continued to be a conduit through which citizens expressed complaints regarding human rights abuses and violations.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
While the constitution states an individual’s home is inviolable and that a search may take place only with a search warrant, authorities at times entered homes without judicial authorization, monitored, without legal process, personal movement and private communications–including email, text messaging, or other digital communications intended to remain private–and employed informers.