By Chekib El-Khiari, Former Prisoner of Conscience
During my period of arbitrary detention, I spent nearly two years and two months in five prisons from the west of the kingdom to the east. It was a period full of rich experiences and valuable lessons not previously destined for me to live through or learn from. They allowed me to see the world around me as I have never seen it before and not as I understood it, and I was touched by a hidden human reality neither seen by the eyes nor comprehensible by the minds of the general populace.
I was arrested on 17 February 2009 and thrown in prison on the charge of “undermining or insulting public institutions”, and months later, the additional charge of “violating monetary exchange laws”. I was sentenced to three years imprisonment and a fine of almost 75 thousand euros.
It was recognized that the different stages of my prosecution and trial amounted to gross violations of the law; starting from my illegal detention and summoning me to my parents’ house to search it without a warrant, an excessive period in custody, and the falsification of factual records, to all the abuses which accompanied my trials of first instance and appeal. The most conspicuous was the court’s fabrication of a press statement I did not make and prosecuting me on the back of it. That is despite the fact that the judge who convicted me wrote plainly in his explanation of the judgment that “the Moroccan legislator did not define public institutions”, so I was convicted of a charge carrying no specific meaning that was devised in order to restrict freedom of expression and oppress human rights defenders and members of the press.
My arrest was on the grounds of my submission of press statements to Moroccan and international platforms in accordance with internationally recognized human rights practices, about the involvement of elements of the security forces in international drug-trafficking, and the infiltration of drug barons into the parliamentary dome in order to utilize politics to support their illegal trade. Following these statements, dozens of security officers were arrested, including those from the high ranks of the military, before I also joined them in the same prison.
Despite that, the court continued to ask me: “Do you have evidence of the involvement of elements of the security forces in international drug-trafficking?” and I answered to no avail: “You already arrested dozens of them a month before my arrest, and afterwards joined me with them in the prison.” In addition to that, my defense provided the judicial body with statements by officials from political parties participating in government, confirming the infiltration of the political sphere by drug barons, and one of them made a public statement on the Moroccan Channel Two, stating that close to a third of the Moroccan Parliament are drug barons, but the court paid no attention to any of that and my conviction was held.
Amnesty was the first human rights organization to contact my brother since the second day of my detention, and on the fourth day they issued a public report concerning my case and demanding that the state release me immediately and unconditionally. In addition to that, on the third day Human Rights Watch immediately intervened and likewise issued a public statement about my situation. These two interventions confirmed to me later that they were both active in supporting the mobilization of national and international solidarity with my case and weakening the severity of what was plotted against me.
From that point onward, Amnesty regularly followed my news, and every week when my brother visited me in prison officials from the organization called him before and after wishing to check on my situation. This had a profoundly comforting effect on me psychologically, and I am not exaggerating if I say that Amnesty succeeded in making me feel like I am free man, and why not, as every week the prison guards gave me the dozens of letters of worldwide solidarity I had received after the campaign launched by Amnesty to ‘Write against forgetting’. They were a great motivation for me to rise up against the circumstances of the detention and being away from family and friends, because those words rich in sentiments from children, young people, and men and women of all ages and who I do not know, made me feel that my family and I were not alone, and that with this detention we were performing a human duty in the course of the struggle against corruption and injustice. Thus, despite our being a simple family of modest means living in a city in an unknown patch of the world, to Amnesty we mean a lot and deserve teams dedicated to working day and night to keep up with our news and check on our conditions in order to offer us support.
What Amnesty did for me was not in vain, as I was released four months after the launch of ‘The Letter Writing Marathon’ in the context of a state declaration of the elimination of 190 legal files of arbitrary judgments on illegal grounds. A year before that under pressure from international movements, attempts started to release me on terms I did not wish to comply with, as they were aimed at humiliating me and extricating the state from acknowledging its grave offense.
Since coming out of prison, I have partnered with Amnesty in its campaigns to defend victims of unfair trials and human rights violations across the world, and I will continue to do so for the rest of my life. By taking some simple steps like filling out five sections on a web page, with one click you can help many people across the world free of charge. With an ordinary postcard you can paint a broad smile on the faces of lonely prisoners unjustly detained in the darkness of prisons. Similarly, you giving a small amount of money enables Amnesty’s teams to work relentlessly day and night in order to change the situation of human rights for the better in many parts of the world even those unknown to it.
I salute Amnesty and all who support it.