We are writing to express our concern about the apparent police mistreatment of Dahha Rahmouni and Brahim Alansari. Moroccan police held the two human rights advocates from El-Ayoun in custody without charge in that city from December 14 to 16.
Mr. Alansari told Human Rights Watch that police beat and otherwise mistreated him and Mr. Rahmouni, forced them to sign written statements that they were not allowed to read, and threatened that the documents would be used against them in future judicial proceedings.
Mr. Alansari, 39, is a member of the El-Ayoun chapter of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH), and of the Nejd Demouqrati political party. Mr. Rahmouni, 40, is a member of the executive committee of the Sahrawi Association of Victims of Grave Human Rights Violations (ASVDH).
According to Mr. Alansari, the police officer who interrogated the men accused them of using human rights work as a “mask,” and of belonging to the POLISARIO, the Sahrawi pro-independence movement.
The police arrested the men at 10 p.m. on December 14, while they were in Mr. Rahmouni’s car on Smara Road in El-Ayoun. Mr. Alansari stated that two police cars, one with five uniformed policemen and another with three or four plainclothes officers, stopped Mr. Rahmouni’s car. The police then drove Mr. Alansari to a police station near the Wilaya of El-Ayoun; they brought Mr. Rahmouni to the station separately.
Police questioned Mr. Alansari in the police car for an hour before taking him into the station. They blindfolded him and took him to a room that, as he later discovered when his blindfold was removed, was an office. In that room several persons beat and kicked him on the face and back for roughly fifteen minutes. They demanded that he provide the personal identification number (PIN) for his mobile phone, which he refused to do.
Mr. Alansari then learned that Mr. Rahmouni was also in the room, and was having trouble breathing. Both men explained to the police present that Mr. Rahmouni had a medical condition, and requested that his family be allowed to bring his medicine. The police denied this request until Sunday, when Mr. Rahmouni paid a police officer to buy medicine. Policemen placed the two men next to each other while insulting them. They were left in the room, still blindfolded, until the following morning (the 15th). Guards remained in the room overnight.
In the morning, an officer entered the room and interrogated them about their relationships with human rights organizations and human rights defenders. He asked how the men got information from victims, who took the victims' pictures, and to whom the pictures were sent. The officer also accused them of being members of POLISARIO, which they denied. The interrogation continued until mid-day. In the evening, the officer returned, took off their blindfolds and advised them to stop their activities. They were again left in the same office, under guard, until the following morning (the 16th), when the officer entered again and questioned Mr. Rahmouni. The two men were given nothing to eat until Sunday.
On Sunday afternoon, police officers took Mr. Rahmouni to another room. Mr. Alansari stated that other officers kept him behind and told him to sign a statement (procès verbal). When Mr. Alansari asked to read it, the policemen refused, kicked him in the neck, immobilized him, and forced his finger onto an ink pad and then onto each page of the document. They threatened to keep beating him until he signed the document, which he did.
Mr. Rahmouni was brought back to the same room, and Mr. Alansari said he saw multiple cuts or contusions on his face and back. The police officer who had conducted their interrogations then told them that the document they had signed would be used against them if they were arrested again.
At around 8 p.m. on the 16th, police drove the two men in a green police van and released them on a side street near the stadium in El-Ayoun. On Tuesday December 18, Mr. Alansari and Mr. Rahmouni returned as instructed to the police station and collected their mobile phones and Mr. Rahmouni’s car, which had been impounded.
According to our information, Mr. Rahmouni’s rheumatism was aggravated by his being left on the floor of an office in the police station for two nights. Both men fear that the documents they were forced to sign may be used against them at any time.
A Human Rights Watch request on December 20 for information on the incident from the embassy of Morocco in Washington, D.C. had as of December 28 received no response.
From the circumstances described above, it appears that Moroccan authorities arrested, questioned, and mistreated Mr. Rahmouni and Mr. Alansari in order to punish them for their peaceful human rights activities, and to intimidate them into ceasing these activities.
We are particularly concerned that police agents appear to have:
- Subjected Mr. Alansari and Mr. Rahmouni to physical beatings and other mistreatment, in violation of Morocco’s obligations under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment;
- Forced Mr. Rahmouni and Mr. Alansari to sign against their will statements that they were prevented from reading;
- Questioned the two men about their peaceful activities in defense of human rights, and threatened them if they did not cease these activities.
We urge you to conduct an investigation into the above-described allegations of mistreatment against the two men, sanction any public agents found to be responsible for such mistreatment, and make public the findings of your investigation and the actions taken as a result.
We also urge you to disclose the basis for the arrest of the two men and the text of the statements that they signed while in custody. If those statements are found to have been coerced, we urge you to ensure that they are not used in any proceedings against the two men, or anyone else.
Finally, we urge you to ensure that both Mr. Alansari and Mr. Rahmouni and all human rights defenders are able to exercise their right to peacefully collect and disseminate information about human rights conditions without fear of arrest, harassment, or reprisal.
We thank you in advance for providing us clarifications about this case and will continue to monitor it closely.
Sarah Leah Whitson
Middle East and North Africa director