Minister of Interior
Ministry of Interior
Rabat, Royaume du Maroc
Dear Mr. Minister,
I wish to convey my best greetings to you on the occasion of Aïd al-Adha.
I am also gratified that after initially preventing our researcher Peter Bouckaert from boarding two separate flights to El-Ayoun on November 12 from Casablanca’s Mohamed V airport, authorities allowed him to reach El-Ayoun on November 13. We are also gratified that Mr. Bouckaert and our El-Ayoun-based research assistant Brahim Alansari were able to conduct research from November 12 until November 16, to meet with Wali Mohamed Gelmous, and to interview patients at El-Ayoun civil hospital.
I wish to inform you of a serious incident that occurred on November 8 and involved our research assistant, Mr. Alansari, and to request that the matter be investigated and the perpetrators held accountable. In brief, police in El-Ayoun detained Mr. Alansari on the street and subjected him to a summary beating and degrading treatment, before releasing him without charge. What follows is Mr. Alansari’s account of what happened, followed by the account of an American journalist who witnessed what happened.
Mr. Alansari recalls:
At 7:30 a.m., as I was walking along Smara Avenue, I learned that a huge number of people were marching from the eastern part of the city toward the Maâtallahneighborhood. There was a heavy presence of various security forces: the Auxiliary Forces, the GIR [Groupe d'intervention rapide], plainclothes policemen, and police wearing uniforms.
I observed demonstrators throwing stones on the police cars. Cafés and shops ... were closed along Smara Avenue. I heard guns firing – I think they were teargas canisters….There were police cars, GIR and auxiliary forces everywhere.
[American journalist] John Thorne joined me at Mekka Avenue near the Hotel Jodessa. At about 9 a.m., when we saw policemen approaching us we headed away from the avenue and onto a street behind the Negjir Hotel, close to al-Morabitin school. But a uniformed, armed policeman came towards us. He searched John a little and then turned to me, insulting me and threatening me. Then other police came.
Mr. Thorne and I tried to retreat but the police stopped us and then started kicking, slapping and beating me with batons. They took me near their cars parked close to the Hotel Negjir, where other policemen joined them in beating me and insulting me and calling me “a traitor” and “a separatist.” Then other policemen escorted John toward me.
An officer in plainclothes came and asked us our names and what we were doing there. When I told him my name, he exclaimed, “So it's you, Alansari.” I told him that I work for Human Rights Watch. They asked me to provide a document proving that. I said I had no such document on me but gave them my national ID. Mr. Thorne showed them his press card and passport. Various policemen came, insulted me, and went away. The armed, uniformed officer who had first stopped us near al-Morabitin school returned and said he would shoot me.
The policemen then took my phone and searched it. When they found text messages from Mohamed Ali Ndour, a Sahrawi activist, they commented that I was in touch with “separatists.”
Then they took John somewhere and the other policemen surrounded me and started to kick me and beat me with their sticks and slap me. They asked me my nationality. When I refused to answer, they seemed angered and started to beat me again. Then a higher-ranking officer arrived and ordered me to reply. I said that I cannot talk while being beaten. He did not order the others to stop hitting me.
During this time I was able to hear some agents in uniform telling the others to stop beating me. But those doing the beating told them to leave if they didn’t want to take part in it. Then the higher-ranking officer came again and asked them to stop beating me.
One of the police escorted me to where Mr. Thorne was seated, in a chair. The policeman forced me to sit on the ground next to John, saying that I am a dog and that was my place. After about ten or twenty minutes some policemen approached and told Mr. Thorne to return to his hotel and not to do any work.
The officer in uniform came with my phone in his hands and told John that he is an extremist and that he receives phone calls from abroad. The policeman in plainclothes who was talking to Mr. Thorne told the uniformed officer that the phone belonged to me. Then the man in plainclothes asked me not to accompany Mr. Thorne or to take him anywhere and that I should instead go home and stay out of trouble. They returned my phone and ID and gave John his passport, and we both left.
John Thorne, correspondent for the Abu Dhabi based English language daily The National, gave the following account of what he witnessed:
Around 9 a.m. on November 8, 2010, Brahim Alansari and I went to Place Dchira, in central El-Ayoun, where dozens of policemen and several police vehicles were assembled. At that moment, several more van-loads of police arrived. For reasons I could not discern, police started chasing onlookers.
Mr. Alansari and I ran into a side street. Two policemen caught up to me and apprehended me. I did not see how they caught Mr. Alansari.
Both of us were taken to the edge of Place Dchira, where police were massed, and ordered to sit down. A police officer arrived. He recorded my passport and press card information, and Mr. Alansari’s identity card information. We both identified ourselves and our employers.
I explained that I am accredited by the Communication Ministry as a foreign correspondent in Morocco.
Then the police ordered me to stand, marched me about 15 feet away, and ordered me to sit in a chair. Meanwhile, around a dozen police – some in green jumpsuits, others in blue riot gear – surrounded Mr. Alansari and began beating him.
I could not see how many policemen struck Mr. Alansari. I could see that he was struck with hands and batons at least twenty times during a few minutes. Then the police made Brahim sit next to me.
At this point, two plainclothes policemen took charge of the situation.
After about an hour had passed since Mr. Alansari and I were stopped, the plainclothes policemen told us we could both go. They ordered Brahim to go in one direction and me to go in another. We both left in accordance with their instructions.
Mr. Alansari intends to submit a formal complaint about this beating to the office of the prosecutor at the El-Ayoun court. He did not yet submit it because on November 8 and November 9, he remained at home because when he ventured men in plainclothes outside his apartment advised him “for his safety” to remain at home. After that date, Mr. Alansari devoted himself to his work for Human Rights Watch, namely to begin to establish a record of the recent events in El-Ayoun and Gdeim Izik and to prepare for the fieldwork that he conducted jointly with Mr. Bouckaert for Human Rights Watch. Mr. Bouckaert mentioned this incident to Wali Gelmous when he and Mr. Alansari met with him on November 14.
Human Rights Watch will forward to you a copy of the complaint that Mr. Alansari submits to the office of the prosecutor.
We are available to assist any government agencies assigned to investigate this incident, in the interest of seeing that justice is done.
We look forward to hearing the results of the investigation.
Thank you for your consideration.
Sarah Leah Whitson
Middle East and North Africa Division
Human Rights Watch