Morocco: The arbitrary detention of Maitre Mohamed ZIAN referred to the UN Working Group

Mohamed ZIAN

On 14 May 2024, Alkarama submitted to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) the situation of Mr Mohamed ZIAN (81), former Minister of Human Rights and former President of the Rabat Bar, founder of the Moroccan Liberal Party (PLM), who has been imprisoned for 18 months in Al Arjat prison. 

Arrested on 21 November 2022, he was sentenced to three years' imprisonment by the Rabat Court of Appeal on 11 unrelated charges. 

Interim measures by the Human Rights Committee 

This is the second procedure submitted by Alkarama to the UN human rights protection mechanisms. An initial communication dated 24 February 2024 had already been sent by Alkarama to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which on 28 February called on the State Party to adopt urgent interim measures, in particular by amending the sentence. 

In view of the increasing number of violations of Mr ZIAN's fundamental rights and the reprisals to which he is subjected for political reasons, Alkarama, mandated by his family, has decided to also bring his case to the attention of the WGAD in order to obtain recognition of the arbitrary nature of his deprivation of liberty. 

Mr ZIAN, victim of reprisals 

Mr ZIAN, former Minister Delegate to the Prime Minister in charge of Human Rights, lawyer and former President of the Rabat Bar Association, has always been a defender of fundamental rights and freedoms in his country. In this respect, he has defended numerous prisoners of conscience before the Moroccan courts and submitted information to the United Nations human rights protection mechanisms, through international NGOs including Alkarama. 

In its request, Alkarama stressed the need for the Working Group's experts to examine all the violations of Mr ZIAN's rights and fundamental freedoms throughout the internal procedure in light of his criticism of the country's security services as a human rights defender and political opponent, which exposed him to acts of reprisal and intimidation by the State security services. 

It was also pointed out that some of the charges against him, including the more recent ones that arose after his imprisonment, are closely linked to his peaceful activities as a political opponent. Other charges stem from practices documented by civil society and independent United Nations experts, consisting of the use of sexual accusations by the intelligence services to discredit and defame political opponents, journalists and other peaceful activists. 

Arbitrary deprivation of liberty with no legal basis 

The deprivation of liberty of Mr ZIAN is considered arbitrary within the meaning of international law, even though it would comply with domestic law, if it proves to be "inappropriate, unjust, unforeseeable, unreasonable and disproportionate, thus contravening fundamental judicial guarantees". 

In the case of Mr ZIAN, he was arrested on the same day as the Rabat Court of Appeal handed down its verdict in his absence on 21 November 2022, without a committal order being issued at the hearing. This fundamental omission constitutes a flagrant violation of the legal procedures established by article 392 of the Moroccan Code of Criminal Procedure. 

The transmission to Mr ZIAN's lawyer, eight days after his arrest, of a detention order issued by the Public Prosecutor in order to justify the arrest a posteriori also constitutes a violation of the constitutional provisions of Article 23, as well as of the requirements of Moroccan criminal procedure, which expressly require precise and transparent reasons for any measure of deprivation of liberty.

There is therefore no doubt that the arrest and detention of Mr ZIAN, without complying with the requirements of the law, demonstrates the lack of a legal basis for his deprivation of liberty. Furthermore, the complete lack of connection between the various charges brought against Mr ZIAN, combined with the lack of a clear and precise description of the incriminating facts, indicates the political nature of the case.

Mr ZIAN was immediately remanded in custody even though he appeared free during his trial and posed no threat. Although detention should be the exception rather than the rule and should be ordered for the shortest possible time, the authorities showed no reluctance to detain him despite his age and frail health. 

Despite the decision of the Human Rights Committee, which called on the authorities to ensure that his sentence was urgently reviewed as a precautionary measure, Mr ZIAN was instead served with a new detention order on 7 March this year, based on new and equally spurious charges.

Violation of Mr ZIAN's fundamental rights 

Alkarama, in its communication to the UN experts, maintained that the deprivation of liberty of Me ZIAN stemmed directly from his peaceful exercise of his fundamental rights and in particular his right to freely express his opinions, whether as a lawyer, a human rights defender or a political figure, leader of an opposition party. 

This is evidenced by the vague terms used to describe some of the actions incriminated, such as "spreading false information" for having expressed criticism of the abuses committed by the security authorities in his country. 

It has also been established that Mr ZIAN has not been afforded the guarantees of due process and a fair trial.

Alkarama recalled that the right to be present at his trial and to defend himself is violated when neither he nor his lawyer are regularly notified of the date and place of hearings and ensure that he is not unduly excluded from the proceedings. In this case, the court summons procedure was not followed, which suggests that the authorities were deliberately seeking to exclude Mr ZIAN from the trial in order to try him in his absence and sentence him to imprisonment. 

Alkarama stressed that the numerous transgressions of the right to a fair trial observed at each stage of the proceedings clearly demonstrate the lack of independence and impartiality of the judges and the prosecution in the case that led to his arbitrary deprivation of liberty. 

Lastly, the entire procedure in Mr ZIAN's case was motivated by an intention to retaliate against him on account of his status as a political opponent and a lawyer engaged in the defence of human rights. This was also demonstrated by Alkarama in his communication to the experts noting that this vindictive motivation on the part of the authorities resulted in a flagrant denial of his right to equality before the law. 

However, the judicial persecution of which he is a victim clearly illustrates the political will of the authorities to supress any inclination to express political dissent or criticism of the abuses and violations committed by the country's security officials. 

For all these reasons, Alkarama has called on the WGAD experts to recognise the arbitrary nature of Mr Mohamed ZIAN's deprivation of liberty and to urge the Moroccan authorities to release him.