The Moroccan government should seriously investigate a retired police agent’s charges of official kidnapping and torture of government critics, Human Rights Watch said today.

In a letter to Justice Minister Omar Azzimane, Human Rights Watch said that the one-year prison sentence and heavy fine imposed on Ahmed Boukhari on August 29 for alleged financial irregularities appears intended to silence him.

The jail sentence also appears intended to ensure that Boukhari will not be able to testify at a September 7 French judicial inquiry into the kidnap-abduction of prominent Moroccan opposition leader Mehdi Ben Barka in Paris in 1965. Boukhari now sits in a Casablanca jail and his request for a passport has gone unanswered.

“Morocco should investigate Boukhari’s charges without delay, and allow him to meet with the French judge,” said Hanny Megally, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. “Whatever the merit of the charges brought against him, he is potentially a key witness to gross human rights violations. The state has an obligation to facilitate, not impede, his cooperation with the French inquiry.”

In revelations published at the end of June in French and Moroccan media, Boukhari named Moroccan security agents who, he says, arranged to have Ben Barka kidnapped in Paris, where they tortured him to death. They then flew his body back to Morocco and dissolved it in a vat of acid. Ben Barka’s disappearance until now has never been solved.

“Morocco’s treatment of Ahmed Boukhari so far seems to contradict the government’s many fine statements about respecting human rights and dealing honorably with past abuses,” Megally said. “We will monitor his treatment closely.”