Mbarek Daoudi, a Sahrawi activist who has been detained for 15 months as of December 2014, and is awaiting trial before a military court.

Photo courtesy of the family

(Rabat) – Moroccan authorities should request the release of two civilians who have been held for unreasonably long periods awaiting military court trials, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the justice and liberties minister and the minister-delegate for national defense.

In January 2015, Morocco published a new law on military justice that ends military trials of civilian defendants. It apparently provides that pending cases are to be transferred to civilian courts once the law takes effect in July.

“Morocco’s law ending military trials of civilians is a positive step,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director. “Morocco can take another positive step by removing Mbarek Daoudi and Mamadou Traoré from military court jurisdiction and resolving their cases.”

The authorities should clarify what outstanding charges – if any – the men face, and ensure that if they are to be prosecuted, their cases are transferred to civilian tribunals and resolved without further delay, Human Rights Watch said. Daoudi is a Western Sahara activist held for 18 months and Traoré is a young Malian migrant held for 32 months. Neither trial has begun.

Authorities arrested Traoré on July 10, 2012, and accused him of throwing a stone that caused the death of an Auxiliary Forces agent near a border crossing. Daoudi, a Sahrawi activist from the city of Guelmine, was arrested in September 2013 and charged with weapons possession and attempting to manufacture a weapon. In both cases, the military court opened their trials only to postpone them immediately and indefinitely, without providing a reason.

The military court recently declared itself incompetent to try Daoudi on some of the minor charges he faced and referred his case to a civilian court for those charges. On March 9, 2015, a civilian court in Guelmine convicted him on a misdemeanor charge and sentenced him to three months in prison. Though he has already spent 18 months in prison awaiting trial, Daoudi was not released.

Human Rights Watch requested clarification of the judicial status of Daoudi and Traoré, who are in Salé prison.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Morocco is party, requires that “[a]nyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge shall be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorized by law to exercise judicial power and shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release.”

“Morocco has made clear with its new law that civilians shouldn’t be tried before military courts,” Whitson said. “It should quickly resolve the cases of the two men who have been sitting in prison for many months under the old system without even beginning their trials.”