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(Rabat) – The Moroccan government should renew the passport of Abdelkrim Mouti’ and allow him and his family to end their political exile, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Interior Minister Taïeb Charkaoui. Moroccan officials have refused repeated requests to issue him a passport, as recently as in January 2011.

Since Morocco embarked on a period of human rights reform in the mid-1990s, the vast majority of political exiles have been able to return home without fear of persecution. Mouti’, the head of the Islamist youth organization Shabiba Islamiya, is one of the few Moroccans still prevented from returning to his homeland for political reasons.

A Moroccan court sentenced him in absentia in 1980, to life in prison for the murder of the socialist party leader Omar Benjelloun. Mouti’, who is now 77, was abroad at the time of the killing and has always proclaimed his innocence in the affair. In subsequent in absentia trialsin 1982 and 1985, Moroccan courts sentenced him to death on charges of endangering the security of the state. During those years, hundreds of dissidents were imprisoned after unfair trials.

“A Moroccan has the right to a passport and to return to his homeland,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “A state that respects the rule of law should not deny him these rights arbitrarily, whatever his court records may contain.”

Mouti’ has made repeated attempts, unsuccessfully, to get a new Moroccan passport. Until 2002, Morocco also denied passport renewals to his immediate family, apparently for no reason other than their relation to him. But most of his family members still perceive travel to Morocco as unsafe. They note that a Moroccan diplomat advised them all to wait for a royal amnesty before attempting to return. No amnesty has been granted.

Mouti’ has continued his public criticism of those in power from exile, as exemplified by a recent letter he wrote, as leader of Shabiba Islamiya, criticizing members of the king’s entourage and encouraging him to respect peoples’ rights.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Morocco has ratified, states, “[N]o one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.”

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