By Ann Flower Seyse
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
RABAT, Morocco– On June 24, Moroccan human rights activist Chekib El-Khiari, was sentenced to three years imprisonment for “gravely insulting state institutions” and for minor violations of Moroccan foreign account regulations. In addition, El-Khiari has been fined about 753,000 dirhams (US $90,360) for his actions. El-Khiari has been actively speaking out against Morocco’s drug policies for several years.
Human Rights Activist Chekib El-Khiari, Image Courtesy of Global Voices Online
El-Khiari was convicted of “gravely insulting state institutions” for his criticism that Morocco is failing to regulate and reign in the drug trade. This crime carries a maximum sentence of one month to one year imprisonment and a fine between 1,200 and 5,000 dirhams (US $144 to US $600), according to the Moroccan Penal code articles 263 and 265.
El-Khiari was also convicted of violating Moroccan foreign finance regulations for opening a bank account abroad in Melilla, in which he deposited € 225 (US $288) after he received authorization from the Moroccan exchange office. This money was payment for an article that El-Khiari wrote for the Spanish daily El País in 2006.
Human Rights Watch has speculated that the financial charges were only added in order to increase the maximum sentence El-Khiari could receive, and to further discredit El-Khiari and his statements. “Morocco is opening up in some respects, but its treatment of Chekib El-Khiari shows that when someone speaks out in ways that truly bother officials, they come down on him like a ton of bricks,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. Whitson further charged that the verdict against El-Khiari violates the basic right of freedom of expression, and that the verdict was meant to silence other activists in Morocco’s Rif region and to intimidate others.
Moroccan news agency MAP reported that Khayari also has been accused of taking money from foreign leaders in order to lead a campaign to discredit Moroccan efforts to stop drug trafficking.
El-Khiari is being held at Oukacha Prison in Casablanca, and his lawyers are planning to appeal the June 24 verdict.
For more information, please see:
E-Taiwan News- Moroccan Activist Gets 3 Years in Jail on Contempt– 26 June 2009
Global Voices Online – Morocco: Human Rights Activist Jailed for Whistleblowing– 26 June 2009
Reuters- Morocco Court Jails Critic of Govt Drugs Policy– 24 June 2009
Human Rights Watch- Morocco: Narco-Traffic Whistleblower Unfairly Sentenced-24 June 2009