Zurich, Switzerland (Al Karama Foundation)- On 4 January 2016, Alkarama seized the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) with the case of Abdelkader Belliraj, a 59-year-old Belgian-Moroccan citizen sentenced by the Moroccan authorities to life imprisonment in 2009 on the sole basis of confessions obtained under torture – which is why his case was dismissed in Belgium in October 2013. By seizing the WGAD for a second time, Alkarama hopes that this UN mechanism for the protection of human rights establishes the arbitrary nature of the victim’s deprivation of liberty that has lasted for eight years, and calls on the Moroccan authorities to take the necessary measures to release him.
Arbitrary arrest, secret detention and torture
Arrested in Marrakech on 18 January 2008 by plainclothes agents who did not present a judicial warrant and refused to inform him of the reasons for his arrest, Belliraj was held in secret detention for 28 days, a period during which he was not only removed from the protection of the law, but also subjected to severe torture from which he still bears scars. Among other things, as he testified during his trial, Belliraj was severely beaten on all parts of his body, suspended for long periods of time, deprived of food and placed in solitary confinement in a tiny cell. It only at the end of this month of torture that he agreed to sign, without even being allowed to read them, the police records containing his “confessions”. Other people accused in the “Belliraj case”, such as Abderrahim Abourkha and Ali Aarrass, have reported having been victims of the same procedure.
Accused of leading a terrorist network composed of political opponents and journalists
According to the authorities’ official version, however, it was only on 16 February 2008 − after having signed his “confessions” − that Belliraj would have been arrested at Casablanca airport and transferred to the premises of the judicial police, whereas his wife and relatives had reported his disappearance to the police on 18 January and had since then been looking for him in all hospitals in the region. Four days later, on 20 February 2008, the Interior Minister, Chakib Benmoussa was announcing, in a press conference, the dismantling of a terrorist network involving around 30 individuals, and designating Belliraj as the leader of this alleged network composed both of Islamists and socialist activists or even well-known journalists, all without any particular links among them or with Belliraj.
Serious procedural irregularities
Following a particularly publicised trial that opened in Rabat on 16 October 2008, members of the “Belliraj network” were all sentenced on 29 July 2009 to prison sentences ranging from one year to life imprisonment for the main accused, currently detained in the Toulal prison near Meknès. Serious procedural irregularities were denounced by the defendant and confirmed by numerous observers without being considered by the Court.
Despite these serious irregularities, the Court did not take into consideration either the fact that no investigation was opened into the allegations of torture, or the serious shortfalls related to the arrests, detention, and the production of police statements. Among others, the arrest dates had been modified for people like Belliraj, who were arrested long before the date mentioned in the police records. Some detainees also claimed during the trial that the content of the presented records did not correspond to their original statements.
Dismissal in Belgium on the basis of inadmissible evidence
After his conviction in Morocco, Belliraj was also subjected to criminal proceedings in Belgium where he lived with his family, on the basis of confessions where he admitted to crimes committed in Belgium. Nevertheless, having ordered an investigation into the conditions under which these confessions had been obtained in Morocco, the Belgian Federal Prosecutor dismissed his case on 25 October 2013 on the grounds that these had been obtained under torture and were therefore unusable before a Belgian court.
“A political case par excellence”
According to Belliraj’s wife, the reason behind her husband’s arrest is essentially political. Belliraj was arrested along with other members of the Al Badil Al Hadari party − or the Alternative Civilisation Party, a former Moroccan political party of Islamist ideology created in 2002 and dissolved by the authorities on 20 February 2008 following the Belliraj case − that he would have met in the 2000s.
“This case should bear the name of “The Al Badil al Hadari party Case”, given its strong political aspect. The main party leaders that were sentenced in the same case in first instance and on appeal to heavy penalties (15-28 years in prison) found themselves released after two years in detention. My husband and 17 others are still there,” she says before continuing:
“Add to that the countless abuses and procedural errors that have accompanied this case since the beginning, starting with the abduction in the street, the incommunicado detention and torture that lasted for a month, the signing of minutes under coercion while hooded, and their transmission to the media before he had even been brought before a judge… Even the Belgian investigation, which lasted more than five years, resulted in a dismissal, taking into account the fact that my husband’s Belgian lawyer never had access to my him during these eight years of detention, despite many attempts and several trips to Morocco. That is why I say it is a political issue par excellence and that the solution can only be political.”
And behind this political process is the suffering of the families of the people detained in this case.
“This masquerade and all this mess hide a terrible human misery suffered by the families of the prisoners in this case, whose wives and children were left in total confusion overnight and for eight long years in a never-ending wait”.
In view of the violations of Articles 9 and 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which respectively guarantee the right not to be subject to arbitrary arrest or detention and the right to a fair trial, Alkarama again seized the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) to call on Morocco to take all necessary measures to remedy the situation by releasing Abdelkader Belliraj and provide him with adequate compensation.