Morocco: Journalist and Human Rights Defender, El Hasnaoui Victim of New Reprisals in Kenitra Prison

Mustapha El Hasnaoui

Moroccan journalist and human rights defender, Mustapha El Hasnaoui, was recently placed in solitary confinement by the prison administration of Kenitra prison. His family has had no contact with him since 7 January 2016 and is systematically denied the right to visit. Like many prisoners convicted of terrorism or suspected of belonging to the "Islamist movement", El Hasnaoui is particularly exposed to punishment and other degrading treatment at the hands of his guards. In July 2015, he had already been placed in an isolation cell for 18 days, where he nearly died of asphyxiation due to a gas leak in the prison. On 20 January, Alkarama seized the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) to bring to its attention the disciplinary action El Hasnaoui continues to suffer under.

Before his arrest in Casablanca, El Hasnaoui was a journalist for Assabil and a member of the Moroccan NGO, Forum for Dignity and Human Rights. Through his critical writing and his associative involvement, he documented and denounced numerous cases of arbitrary detention and torture, as well as serious abuses of the authorities in the pretext of countering terrorism.

Arrested on 16 May 2013 at Casablanca airport, he was sentenced to four years in prison on 11 July 2013, solely on the basis of police records that he was forced to sign at the end of his time in police custody without being able to read them, even though he denied all the accusations raised against him during his hearing, none of which made any reference to violent activities, let alone terrorist ones.

Alerted by Alkarama, the WGAD had however issued its Opinion No 54/2013 in which it qualified El Hasnaoui's detention as arbitrary and called for his immediate release.

To this day though, the Moroccan authorities still refuse to implement the WGAD's recommendations. On the contrary, they multiply acts of reprisal against the journalist, who on 14 January 2016 stated in a letter sent to his family: "I simply ask the authorities to undertake a visit in order to become aware of the extent of abuse and suffering we endure in Kenitra's central prison, and the detention conditions under which I live every day."

El Hasnaoui's arbitrary detention shows that the road to a free and independent Moroccan press is still long. In 2011, the Moroccan people were promised a new press code that would eliminate the possibility of prison sentences for journalists. But the Minister of Communication, Mustapha El Khalfi, has already announced that the total abolition of prison sentences for press offenses was not part of the press code reform proposal presented to the Governing Council on 23 December 2015.

Alkarama therefore urges the authorities to urgently implement the WGAD's Opinion and release Mustapha El Hasnaoui as soon as possible in accordance with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) ratified by Morocco in May 1979. In any case, the Moroccan authorities must immediately put an end to abuses and arbitrary actions to which the victim is systematically subjected in Kenitra prison.

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