Morocco. Cease criminal investigations against human rights defenders for social media posts

Moroccan authorities have intensified their harassment of human rights defenders and activists over the past two months, and at least four of them face criminal investigations and prosecutions for social media posts critical of the authorities , Amnesty International said today.

Human rights defender Saida El Alami was arrested on March 23 and will appear in a court in Casablanca on April 8 to face charges relating to publications in which she publicly denounced the harassment she suffered from the police and criticized the authorities’ crackdown on journalists and activists.

“Moroccan authorities are harassing and intimidating activists through baseless criminal investigations and false accusations with the brazen aim of silencing critical voices and suppressing peaceful activism,” said Amna Guellali, Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa to Amnesty International.

“We call on the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Saida El Alami and drop all charges against her. Police must end all interrogations and prosecutions of activists that arise solely from their exercise of the right to freedom of expression.

Police forces also arrested blogger Mohamed Bouzlouf, who expressed solidarity with El Alami on Facebook on March 26. A court in Ouarzazate sentenced him to two months in prison on April 4. Two other activists, Abderrazak Boughanbour and Brahim Nafai, are under investigation and have been summoned for questioning over Facebook posts in which they respectively called for protests and fuel boycotts.

Saida El Alami is a human rights activist and member of the collective “Moroccan Women Against Political Detention”, which brings together women human rights defenders and denounces politically motivated detentions. On March 23, 2022, she received a summons from the National Judicial Police Brigade (BNPJ). After her interrogation, she was placed in police custody for 48 hours before being taken to the Ain Sebaa court of first instance in Casablanca. She did not have access to a lawyer while in police custody and for the first ten days of her incarceration.

The prosecutor questioned her about her social media posts, including a March 22 Facebook post in which she criticized the director general of the national security directorate (DGSN) and the director of the surveillance directorate (DGST). ) of Morocco for sending agents to question her neighbors about her while she was out. In another Facebook post published on January 20, which is also part of the prosecution, Alami denounced corruption in the judicial system.

The prosecutor charged her with “contempt of a body governed by law”, “contempt of public officials in the performance of their duties”, “contempt of court orders” and “dissemination and distribution of false allegations without consent” under Articles 265, 263, 266 and 2-477 of the Penal Code, respectively. One of El Alami’s lawyers, who asked not to be named for security reasons, told Amnesty International that the prosecutor had refused his request for release pending trial, without justification.

Under international human rights law, it is a violation to insult or disrespect state officials or public figures, the military or other public institutions. of the right to freedom of expression. Moreover, as determined by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, public officials are required to tolerate a higher degree of scrutiny and criticism than individuals. Laws criminalizing defamation, whether directed at public figures or individuals, constitute a disproportionate restriction on the right to freedom of expression and, therefore, defamation should be treated as a civil matter.

Facebook on police radar

On March 8, police in the city of Settat summoned Brahim Nafai, a philosophy professor and national secretary of the youth wing of the political party Annahj Addimocraty (The Democratic Way), over a Facebook post he shared. in which he called for a boycott of the purchase of fuel for three days. Facebook authorities suspended Nafai’s Facebook account on March 8, after his post was reported to them by unknown sources. When his friends helped him regain access to his account a few hours later, the message had been deleted. On March 9, Nafai was interrogated by two police officers at the Settat police station for more than three and a half hours. He was not informed of any action taken on his file.

On February 17, 2022, on the orders of the public prosecutor, the Moroccan police summoned Abderrazak Boughanbour, former president of the Moroccan League for the Defense of Human Rights (LMDDH) for questioning. The summons came after Boughanbour shared a message three times on his Facebook page calling on the Moroccan Social Front, which is a coalition movement of associations, political groups and trade unions, to join the demonstrations planned in commemoration of the February 20 movement, which called for political reform. The next day, February 18, Boughanbour went to the police station in Skhirat-Temara, a town about 30 km from Rabat, where the police interrogated him for more than three hours about his political career and his involvement in the trade unions and human rights activism. , as well as Facebook posts. He was not told if his case was closed or what to expect next.

On March 26, Casablanca police traveled 432 km south to Ouarzazate to arrest Mohamed Bouzlouf, a young man who had expressed solidarity with Saida Alami in a Facebook post on March 24, his brother told Amnesty. International. They took him in a civilian car to the Ouarzazate police station, where they questioned him about his Facebook posts in favor of Saida El Alami. According to the police statement, which Amnesty has reviewed, the police charged him with “undermining established institutions”, “influencing justice” and “undermining judicial decisions”, under articles 265 and 266 of the Penal Code. Police officers also searched his home on the same day. On April 4, the court in Ouarzazate sentenced Mohamed Bouzlouf to two months in prison and a fine of 2,000 MAD (about 206 USD). Mohamed appeared at his trial by video call from his cell in Ouarzazate prison, where he is still being held. His family have not yet been allowed to visit him due to Covid-19 regulations.

Amnesty International calls on the Moroccan authorities to end the prosecution of activists who have criticized public figures, state officials or state institutions, and to ensure that people are free to express their opinions without fear of reprisals. All penalties for insulting or defaming public officials should be quashed.

Mark M. Gagnon