For many years, Group 48 focuses its work in several regions of the world: Central America, Central Africa, China, Indonesia, and Sudan (Darfur). A few months ago, one of our group founders, Jane Kristof pointed out that we haven’t worked on a prisoner of conscience (POC) for a long time. Taking her words to heart, Terri Rodello and I asked AIUSA staff to recommend a POC case to us. We were quickly assigned to Moroccan human rights defender and journalist, Chekib El-Khiari.
Chekib El-Khiari is serving a three-year prison sentence because he criticized Moroccan authorities and officials. On February 17, 2009, El-Khiari was summoned to report to the police in Casablanca. According to the state-run news agency Maghreb Arab Press, the General Crown Prosecutor at the Court of Appeals in Casablanca ordered the summons because of public statements El-Khiari had made, including on national television, alleging that high-ranking state officials in Rif were involved in drug-trafficking and corruption.
The Casablanca Tribunal of First Instance convicted Chekib El-Khiari on June 24, 2009 of undermining or insulting a public institution, and of opening a bank account abroad and transferring money without proper authorization. The latter charges refer to an incident in 2006, when El-Khiari opened a bank account in Spain in order to cash a check from the Spanish newspaper El País, for which he had written an article. He was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment and a heavy fine.
The Court of Appeal of Casablanca confirmed the conviction of Chekib El-Khiari on November 24, 2009. He and his family decided not to lodge an appeal with Morocco’s highest court, having lost faith in the independence of the judiciary. His brother Amine told Amnesty International:
Chekib refused to appeal before the Supreme Court because he does not believe in Moroccan justice…When we appealed, the lawyers referred to several official government statements on the involvement of high-ranking officials in drugs trafficking, but the court did not take those statements into account…We are decided to continue our struggle.
Chekib El-Khiari founded the Association of Human Rights in the Rif (Association du Rif des droits de l’homme, ARDH) in 2005. The organization campaigns on a number of issues, including the treatment of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa in Morocco, violence against women, and the drug trade in Morocco’s northern coastal region. Chekib El-Khiari is also an outspoken advocate of the rights of the Amazigh (Berber) community in the region.
Amnesty International considers Chekib El-Khiari to be a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for raising the issue of the involvement of unnamed high-ranking state officials in drug trafficking and corruption and for his legitimate human rights work.
Take action now to call for the immediate and unconditional release of Chekib El-Khiari.
For more information on press freedom in Morocco, check out these resources from Committee to Protect Journalists: