Moroccan activists have launched an online campaign calling for the release of a student arrested in a demonstration in December last year whose health has deteriorated after being on a hunger strike for more than 110 days.
Azzedine Roussi was arrested in the northwestern city of Taza on Dec. 1. 2011 while taking part in a student protest. He was sentenced on Dec. 21, 2011 by the first instance court to three months in jail and fined 500 dirhams ($60) for allegedly beating and insulting a policeman on campus, according to a report by Morocco’s Association for Human Rights (AMDH)
In the appeals court, the sentence was raised to five months in jail and a fine of 5,000 dirhams ($600).
In a letter sent to Morocco’s Islamist Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane and Justice Minister Mustapha Ramid, AMDH expressed its “deep concern” about Roussi’s health condition, adding that it held the government responsible for the deterioration of his health.
The human rights group, whose president Khadija Ryadi has championed pro-democracy protests across the country last year, said Roussi and other activists were tortured in detention by security services.
Several Moroccan websites have published a letter purported to be written by Roussi from his prison cell in Taza before he was moved to Ibn Sina Hospital in Rabat after his health worsened.
“I am now in cell number 4 in Hay Touba and it is the cell that is most disgusting to prisoners because of the catastrophic conditions in which they live,” according to the letter, a copy of which was published on Moroccan website Lakome.com.
“It is about 40 square meters [430 square feet] and the number of inmates here is close to 100, and this number sometimes exceeds 160.
“One cannot find a tile’s surface on the ground to sleep,” he added.
He wrote he is being “physically beaten every day” by other inmates who are paid to do so and who are not aware that his health has deteriorated because of the hunger strike.
AMDH management committee member, Mohammad Boukr, told Al Arabiya that Roussi’s health has “deteriorated extremely” and that he was likely being “force- fed by a naso-gastric tube.”
He said in such cases where the health of a hunger striker becomes critical, authorities force-feed the person until he recovers and can be transferred back to prison.
Boukri said authorities have shown a “complete disregard of the demands in finding negotiated solution to Roussi and other detained activists.”
According to the petition website “Free Ezzedine,” Roussi has been joined in his hunger strike by four other students detained in the city of Fez: Ibrahim Saidi, Mohamed Ghaloud, Mohamed Fettal, Mohamed Ezaghdidi. They are protesting their arbitrary arrests and the conditions of their detention.
The Moroccan constitution criminalizes acts of “torture, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and all forms of discrimination and inhuman and degrading practices.”
In January, a coalition of 14 human rights groups, including AMDH and Amnesty International, urged the government to draft laws to criminalize the use of torture by members of the security forces.
“Six years after Morocco drafted a law that condemns torture … its practice is still effective and real,” the human rights groups said in a joint statement according to Reuters.
A justice ministry official told Reuters that the government “is aware of isolated cases of torture and will draft firmer laws against it.”