Morocco/Western Sahara: Verdict in Sahrawi mass trial marred by failure to adequately investigate torture claims
A court today convicted 23 Sahrawi activists over deadly clashes in Western Sahara after failing to exclude evidence tainted by allegations of torture during the trial hearings, said Amnesty International.
Early this morning the Rabat Court of Appeals sentenced the defendants to prison terms ranging from two years to life imprisonment in connection with the clashes that followed the forcible dismantlement of a protest camp in Gdim Izik, Western Sahara, in 2010, killing 11 members of the security forces and two Sahrawi protesters.
“During the trial most defendants told the court they were tortured into ‘confessing’ or incriminating themselves or others. If the court was serious about offering them a fair trial, it would have conducted proper investigations into torture allegations by now, or excluded questionable evidence during the hearings,” said Heba Morayef, North Africa Research Director at Amnesty International.
“The failure of judicial authorities, over more than six years, to adequately investigate torture allegations in this case is a stain on today’s verdict.”
The court has yet to make public its written ruling detailing the rationale for this morning’s conviction.
Trial observers told Amnesty International that eight of the accused were sentenced to life imprisonment, and 11 to sentences between 20 and 30 years in prison. Two defendants were sentenced to six and a half and four and a half years in prison respectively, and are expected to be released today as they have already spent this length of time in detention since their arrest in 2010. Two others were sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, which they had effectively already served.
A Moroccan military court had imposed similarly heavy sentences on the defendants in 2013 following a grossly unfair trial. In July 2016 Morocco’s highest appeals court, the Court of Cassation, quashed this conviction citing the absence of conclusive evidence linking defendants to the violence in 2010, and ordered new proceedings before a civilian court.
Despite recent judicial reforms, Morocco’s courts have repeatedly convicted defendants on the basis of their statements to police during interrogation without adequately investigating claims that interrogators used torture or other ill-treatment to force them to incriminate themselves.