Crown Prosecutor, Court of Appeals
Tomorrow, March 2, 2012, marks the first anniversary of the definitive conviction of Mohamed Kherbouche, a police officer, for violence having resulted in the death of Mohamed Aït Si Rihal at a Marrakesh police station on July 25, 2002.
Although charged in the death of Mr. Aït Si Rihal, officer Kherbouche continued to work in the Marrakesh police force for nearly nine years, during which time he was convicted and sentenced to ten years in prison, and then convicted twice more in appeals trials. However, once the courts made his conviction and ten-year prison term final, Mr. Kherbouche vanished and authorities have stated publicly that they have been unable to find him.
Concerned that the principle of accountability is being undermined by the continuing non-execution of the sentence against Mr. Kherbouche, we are writing to Your Excellency to ask what measures are being taken to locate him. You stated, in a letter dated June 17, 2011 to relatives of the deceased man, that your office had ordered the judicial police in Marrakesh to intensify measures to locate Mr. Kherbouche after they had failed to find him at his address of record. You mention that a national arrest warrant (number 10982) had been issued for him on May 19, 2011. You also mention in this letter that the National Security Directorate issued an order suspending him from work effective May 11, 2011.
We also acknowledge with gratitude receipt on February 28, 2012 of a statement from the Justice Ministry affirming that your office had issued a nationwide arrest warrant for Mr. Kherbouche after the police could not find him.
The case goes back to the evening of July 25, 2002, when police brought to the First Arrondissement Police Station Mr. Aït Si Rihal, a Moroccan 52-year-old who resided in France and was visiting Marrakesh at the time with his wife and youngest of three sons. The police had arrested Mr. Aït Si Rihal around 7:30 p.m. at a café where he and another patron had gotten into a dispute. Mr. Aït Si Rihal’s wife, Zoubida Aït Si Rihal, and his brother, Abdellatif Aït Si Rihal, came to the station upon learning that he was there. At about 8:30 p.m., an ambulance transported Mr. Aït Si Rihal, who appeared to be in an unconscious or semiconscious state, to Ibn Zoheir Hospital, where he died about two hours later. The next day, the brother and wife filed a complaint at the Office of the Prosecutor at the Marrakesh Appeals Court, demanding the opening of a criminal investigation. The complaint stated that each of them had seen Mr. Aït Si Rihal being beaten at the police station. The first-degree court’s verdict cites their statements, along with statements made by others, in ruling for the guilt of the defendant.
Moroccan courts convicted Mr. Kherbouche at all three of his trials: the first-degree trial before the Criminal Chamber of the Marrakesh Appeals Court (case number 55/2004, judgment dated March 1, 2005), a first appeal (case number 139/2005, judgment dated May 11, 2006), and another appeal (case number 415/2007, judgment dated November 28, 2008) following a quashing of the first by the Supreme Court.
In the first-degree trial, which opened on March 9, 2004, the court convicted the officer under penal code articles 231 and 403 of violence resulting, unintentionally, in the death of the person, an offense for which the minimum sentence is 10 years in prison. The court also ordered the defendant to pay compensation of 120,000 dirhams (US$13,200) to his survivors.
The first appeals court to retry the case convicted Mr. Kherbouche of a lesser offense under penal code article 400 involving the use of violence, reducing the sentence to two years and canceling the order to compensate the victim’s family. However, the second appeals court found him guilty once again under article 403 and reinstated the 10-year sentence and the compensation judgment. Officer Kherbouche petitioned the Supreme Court to quash the second appeals court verdict but on March 2, 2011, that court left the second appeals verdict intact (decision 98).
July 25 will mark the tenth anniversary of the untimely death of Mr. Aït Si Rihal. During much of the past ten years, the man on trial for beating him fatally continued to report to work as a policeman and earn his salary. Then, after exhausting his appeals one year ago, he fled rather than surrender to serve his sentence, and has not been found since.
Human Rights Watch would be grateful to learn the measures that Moroccan authorities have taken and are taking to locate the convicted defendant, and would appreciate receiving any copies of the warrant or warrants issued for his arrest; copies of any notifications provided to passport control stations at the exit points from the national territory; and a copy of an international arrest warrant, if Morocco has issued one.
Thank you for your consideration.
Sarah Leah Whitson
Middle East and North Africa Division
Human Rights Watch