(New York) - Moroccan authorities should disclose immediately the whereabouts of a human rights activist, Chekib el-Khiari, who reported to the Judicial Police in Casablanca on February 17, 2009, in response to a summons and has not been heard from since. Early this morning, plainclothes police searched el-Khiari's family's home in the city of Nador and confiscated his computer and some documents, family members said.
El-Khiari, 30, is president of the independent Human Rights Association of the Rif and has spoken out publicly on sensitive issues confronting this coastal region of northern Morocco, including illegal drug-trafficking and migration to Europe by Moroccans and sub-Saharan Africans. He discussed these issues on a program on Moroccan television last month. El-Khiari also speaks out on behalf of the cultural rights of Morocco's Amazigh (Berber) population.
"El-Khiari is a well-known and respected human rights activist in a region facing many challenges," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Authorities should comply with Moroccan law and disclose immediately where he is being held. They should also release him quickly unless they charge him with a recognizable offense."
The summons from the National Bureau of the Judicial Police that el-Khiari received on February 16 in Nador did not specify its purpose or relationship to any charge or investigation. Colleagues in Nador said that he remained in touch by mobile phone until he reported to the police on February 17, after which time he was no longer reachable. Morocco's code of penal procedure allows the police, with the approval of the Office of the Prosecutor, to place a person suspected of non-terrorist offenses in pre-arraignment (garde à vue) detention for up to 72 hours. However, the police are required to inform the suspect's family immediately upon doing so.
El-Khiari's relatives have heard nothing about his whereabouts, said Amine El-Khiari, Chekib's younger brother. Amine, who was home during the police search, said that about 10 plainclothes officers carried out the search, saying they had orders to do so. They behaved courteously, he said, but showed no warrant.