a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There was one report that the government or its agents may have committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
Local media reported the Benguerir judicial police opened an investigation into the death of a man in police custody on October 6. In a public statement, the Directorate General of National Security (DGSN) stated the suspect had been placed in police custody as part of a criminal case. He lost consciousness and died in the ambulance. The investigation was ongoing at year’s end.
There were reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities during the year.
Amnesty International reported in December that at least 77 persons were missing following their attempt to cross the border into Spain’s Melilla enclave in June (see section 2.e.). According to the government, on June 24, the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances requested its cooperation concerning the alleged disappearance of the Sudanese national Mazen Dafallah Haroun Dafallah following his attempt to cross the border post between Nador and Melilla. Authorities reported they were unable to uncover any information pertaining to Dafallah.
The National Council on Human Rights (CNDH), a publicly funded national human rights institution, continued to cooperate with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on unresolved cases of disappearance prior to 1992.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and Other Related Abuses
The constitution and the law prohibit such practices, but there were credible reports that government officials employed them.
Government institutions and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to receive reports regarding mistreatment of individuals in official custody. The Public Prosecutor’s Office received seven complaints containing allegations of torture between January and September. At year’s end, one complaint was in the discovery and evidence gathering phase, five were under investigation, and one complaint was closed.
According to the government, during the year the Government Prosecution Office prosecuted nine police officers for the use of violence, who were awaiting judgment in their cases. Three police officers were investigated for excessive use of force against a detainee and subsequently placed on administrative leave. Three other police officers were subjected to administrative investigation for mistreatment of detainees. No additional details on these cases were provided by the government.
There were accusations that security officials subjected Western Sahara proindependence protesters to degrading treatment during or following demonstrations or protests calling for the release of political prisoners. On April 16, unidentified individuals in Boujdour, Western Sahara, beat and seriously injured five women Sahrawi rights and independence activists who were visiting activist Sultana Khaya under informal house arrest (see section 2.d.). Authorities said they opened an investigation into the incident, but no results were released as of year’s end.
International and local human rights organizations claimed that authorities dismissed complaints of abuse in Western Sahara and relied only on police statements. Government officials generally did not provide information on the outcome of complaints. On June 10, the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), ACAT-France, the League for the Protection of Sahrawi Political Prisoners in Moroccan Prisons (LPPS), and a group of lawyers submitted four complaints to the UN Committee Against Torture on behalf of four Sahrawi human rights defenders, who they stated endured severe acts of torture at the hands of government authorities. According to a public statement from ISHR, the four Sahrawi human rights defenders – Mohamed Lamine Haddi, Hassan Dah, Abdelmoula El-Hafidi, and Mohamed Bani – had been detained for six to 12 years based on confessions obtained under torture and without a fair trial. In April Amnesty International reported that on March 15, 17, 18, and 21, five prison guards entered the prison cell of Mohamed Lamine Haddi and beat him with batons and cut his beard against his will after he stated he planned to protest the prison conditions and the denial of access to medicine by going on a hunger strike.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions improved during the year but in some cases did not meet international standards. Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening in some prisons due to overcrowding.
Abusive Physical Conditions: The Moroccan Observatory of Prisons, 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.
As of the end of November, in the country’s 75 prisons, the prison population surpassed 175 percent of capacity. 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 code of criminal procedure considers “preventive detention an exceptional measure.” Nonetheless, approximately 42 percent of the total prison population were pretrial detainees, consistent with the trend of the past decade.
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 General Delegation for Prison Administration and Reintegration (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 is supposed to monitor cases monthly of detained minors. In some juvenile detention centers, this monitoring included routine check-ins with wardens and prison officials on cases, and monthly review of detention case files for updates.
The DGAPR reported there was no discrimination in access to health services or facilities based on gender for women prisoners, who made up just over 2 percent of the prison population. Some officials reported that women inmates often had a harder time accessing gender-specific health specialists such as obstetricians and gynecologists 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 prisoners received care upon request. The DGAPR reported conducting extensive COVID-19 tests and medical consultations in prisons.
Administration: The CNDH and the DGAPR investigated allegations of inhuman conditions. The CNDH and the DGAPR effectively served the function of an ombudsperson, and a system of “letterboxes” 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.
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 from January 10 to February 28 but increased phone time and frequency privileges for inmates during this period. The DGAPR put in place several measures such as cleaning and periodic disinfection while providing officials and inmates with means of prevention, including masks.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted some NGOs with a human rights mandate, as well as the CNDH, to conduct unaccompanied prison monitoring visits. Government policy also permitted academics, as well as NGOs that provided social, educational, or religious services to prisoners, to enter prison facilities. The CNDH reported there were 31 different associations that engaged with the prisons to provide services such as medical care, victim care, and skills training. The CNDH conducted 155 monitoring visits through June.
Between January and June, the CNDH carried out 10 visits to prisons in Western Sahara, including four in Laayoune-Sakia, with the stated goal of preventing practices likely to lead directly or indirectly to torture or mistreatment and engaging with authorities on human rights obligations.
Improvements: According to the DGAPR, the government began development and restoration projects at prisons in Bourkaiz, Safi, Kenitra, Tiznit, Missour, Salé, Khémisset, Khouribga, and Ain Sebaa to improve detention conditions for prisoners, specifically by bringing food, hygiene, and infrastructure up to international standards.
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. The government generally observed these requirements; however, 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. NGOs expressed concerns that lack of respect for fair trial guarantees and judicial independence meant these rights were rarely exercised effectively in practice.
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, which can be extended 12 hours with approval of the Prosecutor’s Office. Authorities did not consistently respect these limits. Most reports of abuse stemmed from police interrogations during these initial detention periods. 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 prosecutor. Police did not always respect this requirement. Authorities sometimes did not notify the family or lawyers promptly of the 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.” The Antiterrorism Act allows initial detention of a terrorism suspect for 12 days. The suspect has a right to a 30-minute visit by a lawyer, which authorities can delay 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.
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 be released 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 additional investigation and a later determination of whether to file. Authorities generally respected these timelines; however, in at least one high-profile case, authorities conducted lengthy investigations and charges remained pending past the allowed timeline.
NGO sources stated that some judges were reticent to use provisional release, bail, or other alternative sentences permitted under the law. 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, requiring bond in the form of property or of cash paid to the court. The bond amount 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 for various reasons, 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. Activists asserted that the government carried out arbitrary arrests associated with enforcement of the shelter-in-place protocol due to COVID-19 restrictions, but no security officials were investigated on this basis, and there was no official report that these provisions were applied during the year.
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 human and infrastructure resources; lack of plea bargaining as an option for prosecutors, which lengthened case processing times; rare use of mediation and other permitted out-of-court settlement mechanisms; and the absence of legal authority for alternative sentencing, among other issues. In some cases defendants were held in pretrial detention for longer than their eventual sentence, particularly for misdemeanors.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but the government did not always respect judicial independence and impartiality. As in previous years, NGOs asserted that corruption and extrajudicial influence weakened judicial independence. The Supreme Judicial Council, mandated by the constitution and established in 2017, manages the courts and day-to-day judicial affairs in place of the Ministry of Justice, but it made limited progress in its stated mission of improving judicial independence. The king appoints the president of the Court of Cassation (the highest court of appeals), who chairs the 20-member council. Additional members include the president of the First Chamber of the Court of Cassation; the prosecutor general; the mediator (national ombudsperson); the president of the CNDH; 10 members elected by the country’s judges; and five members appointed by the king. Human rights activists alleged trials sometimes appeared politicized in cases involving Islam as it related to political life and national security, the legitimacy of the monarchy, and Western Sahara.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial with the right of appeal, and the judiciary generally enforced this right, but NGOs reported significant concerns with fair trial guarantees in some high-profile cases (see sections 1.e. and 2.a.). The law presumes that defendants are innocent. The law requires defendants be informed promptly of potential charges after the initial arrest and investigation period, and authorities generally respected this requirement. 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 of their choice. 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 at times 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 an indigent defendant with an attorney in cases where the potential sentence is greater than five years, but these defense attorneys often were poorly paid and were not properly trained in matters pertaining to juveniles. If an attorney has not yet been appointed when a trial begins, the judge may ask any attorney present to represent the defendant, often resulting in inadequate representation. At times NGOs provided attorneys for vulnerable individuals (minors, refugees, victims of domestic violence), who frequently did not have the means to pay. Access to NGO resources was limited and specific to larger cities.
The law permits defense attorneys to question witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence, but some judges reportedly denied such defense requests. Several NGOs noted arbitrary limits on defendants’ access to case files presented a significant challenge to effective legal representation.
The law forbids judges from admitting confessions made under duress without additional corroborating evidence, but NGOs reported that some defendants were provided confessions to sign without translation. Human Rights Watch (HRW) and local NGOs alleged that judges sometimes decided cases based on forced confessions. NGOs reported the judicial system often relied on confessions for the prosecution of criminal cases, and authorities pressured investigators to obtain a confession from suspects to expedite prosecution.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were credible reports of political prisoners or detainees. The government did not consider any prisoners to be political prisoners and stated it had charged or convicted all individuals in prison under criminal law. The criminal law penalizes certain nonviolent advocacy and dissent, such as insulting police in songs or “defaming Morocco’s sacred values” by denouncing the king and regime. NGOs, including the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH), Amnesty International, and Sahrawi organizations, asserted the government imprisoned persons for political activities or beliefs, using pretextual criminal charges such as espionage or sexual assault.
On February 23, the Casablanca Court of Appeal upheld the five-year sentence of Soulaimane Raissouni, journalist and editor in chief of newspaper Akhbar al-Yaoum. Raisounni was arrested in 2020 after an individual claimed on Facebook that Raissouni sexually assaulted him in 2018. Raissouni disputed the allegation, and civil society groups and activists asserted his arrest was politically motivated and intended to silence independent journalists. Freedom House asserted in its 2022 Freedom in the World report that since 2018 several independent journalists had been prosecuted on what it called “dubious charges of sexual assault or of financial misconduct.” An investigating judge charged Raissouni with “violent and indecent assault and forced detention” and ordered his detention in Oukacha Prison. Reporters Without Borders described his trial as “tainted by irregularities,” and his defense lawyers were not permitted even to consult the indictment issued by the investigating judge. Raissouni remained in prison at year’s end.
Sahrawi political activists alleged security authorities unlawfully entered their homes to harass, intimidate, and confiscate personal belongings. Some activists alleged security authorities carried out these acts to signal that if their political activities did not stop, harassment and intimidation would increase.
On November 21, the Rabat Court of Appeals upheld the sentence of three years in prison with a fine of 5,000 Moroccan dirhams ($478) for Mohamed Ziane, former Minister of Human Rights (1995-98), human rights activist, and lawyer. The court ordered Ziane’s immediate rearrest. The government prosecuted Ziane on 11 charges, including the insult of a public official, publishing false allegations, defamation, adultery, incitement to violate health provisions, and sexual harassment. Human rights organizations raised concerns that Ziane’s arrest and prosecution was politically motivated and reported that 20 police officers arrested Ziane using excessive force while he was praying in his lawyer’s office.
Threats, Harassment, Surveillance, and Coercion: Human rights organizations reported that the government harassed and surveilled human rights activists both inside and outside the country, including using the NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware. On May 26, Canada granted refugee status to Zakaria Moumni, a French citizen and former kickboxing world champion, who reported receiving multiple threats that he attributed to the Moroccan security services while living in France; Moumni had been critical of the king and royal institutions such as the kickboxing royal federation. Moumni, a former Moroccan citizen, was incarcerated in Morocco for 18 months between 2010 and 2012 on charges related to involvement in an alleged immigration fraud scheme.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
Although individuals have access to civil courts for lawsuits relating to human rights violations and had filed lawsuits, NGOs reported that such lawsuits were frequently unsuccessful due to the courts’ lack of judicial 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. There are administrative as well as judicial remedies for alleged wrongdoing. Authorities sometimes failed to respect court orders in a timely manner.
The Institution of the Mediator (akin to a national ombudsperson) helped resolve civil matters that did not clear the threshold to merit involvement of the judiciary, including cases involving civil society registration issues (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association). The mediator retransmitted to the CNDH for resolution those 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.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution prohibits such actions, but there were reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions. 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, employed informers, and monitored, without legal process, personal movement and private communications, including email, text messaging, or other digital communications intended to remain private.
NGOs continued to report the use of arbitrary surveillance against human rights activists and journalists, with Freedom House reporting “widespread” use of spyware and surveillance technologies by the government. In a July report, HRW documented physical and electronic surveillance by the government to harass and violate the rights of independent journalists and human rights defenders. According to the report, several individuals concluded that some of the information published about them in the media was sufficiently detailed to have only been obtained through government surveillance.
g. Conflict-related Abuses
According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there was one allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse, specifically transactional sex, by Moroccan peacekeepers deployed to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic. Investigations by the government and UN Office of Internal Oversight Services into this allegation remained pending at year’s end. Five allegations from previous years – two from 2021 and three from 2020 – also were pending. The government did not report final action on two substantiated allegations from 2020 in the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo concerning sexual exploitation and sexual assault. Additionally, investigations were pending for two 2021 allegations and one 2020 allegation.