Morocco arrests former human rights minister

Moroccan authorities have arrested 79-year-old Mohammed Ziane and upheld his three-year prison sentence.

People in Marrakech's main square in Morocco
Human rights organisations say activists and campaigners face prosecution for freedom of speech-related offences in Morocco [File: Youssef Boudlal/Reuters]

Moroccan authorities have arrested the country’s former human rights minister Mohammed Ziane after a sentence he had previously been given was upheld by an appeals court.

The 79-year-old lawyer’s arrest on Monday fell on the same day the appeals court upheld his initial three-year sentence, the prosecutor’s office in Rabat said.

Ziane is an outspoken government critic and also the founder of the Moroccan Liberal Party.

He went on trial last year after he accused Morocco’s security services of faking a video purporting to show him in a compromising situation with a married woman in a hotel room.

The video caused a scandal, but Ziane accused the head of the police and Morocco’s domestic security forces, Abdellatif Hammouchi, of faking the footage.

Ziane’s son, lawyer Ali Reda Ziane, defended his father and said that “he was transferred to el-Arjat prison (near Rabat). He was not even notified legally and he never appeared” before the court.

“He was convicted [of] all possible and imaginable charges, it’s an aberration the likes of which I’ve never seen,” Ali Reda Ziane said.

Under a complaint filed last year by the Moroccan Ministry of Interior, Ziane was charged with  11 offences including “insulting public officials and the judiciary”, “defamation”, “adultery” and “sexual harassment”, which human rights advocates have called trumped-up charges.

A national body of rights activists defending prisoners of conscience said in a statement on Monday that it was “extremely shocked at the arbitrary arrest” of Ziane, who is also a former head of the Bar Association.

The interior ministry in January accused him of criminally “disseminating false accusations”. He was sentenced in February to three years in prison and fined 5,000 dirhams ($465) but was released.

Ziane was the minister of human rights in Morocco between 1995 and 1996. The well-connected figure was also the government’s lawyer in the 1990s.

In recent years, he has become famous for his outspoken challenges to the Moroccan security apparatus.

Earlier this month, a Moroccan court sentenced human rights activist Rida Benotmane to three years in jail under the charge of “contempt for institutions” after he used social media to urge protests against restrictive measures to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

International human rights organisations have said that activists and campaigners in Morocco continue to face repression and prosecution for freedom of speech-related offences.

Source: News Agencies