RABAT (Reuters) - Morocco, a close U.S. ally in the fight against al Qaeda, routinely holds suspected militants in secret detention where they are at risk of being coerced into making false confessions, Human Rights Watch said Monday.
The Moroccan government rejected the allegations, saying that arrests and detention were in accordance with the law and that its justice system respects human rights.
Morocco has won international praise for an improvement in its human rights record since reformist monarch Mohamed VI took over in 1999 from his father Hassan II, during whose rule hundreds of people were killed at the hands of the government.
But the New York-based rights group said in a report that some abuses have re-surfaced in a security crackdown since 2003, when a series of suicide bombings killed 45 people in the commercial capital, Casablanca.
“While Morocco has demonstrated the political will to adopt enlightened human rights legislation, it lacks the political will to enforce it when it comes to terrorism suspects,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
The report said that people suspected of ties to militant groups were often abducted by agents in plain clothes and without any identification, and then taken blindfolded to secret places of detention.
They are routinely held there longer than the 12 days allowed for pre-arraignment detention, without seeing a judge, being given access to a lawyer or being allowed to tell their families where they are, the report said.
The report, based on interviews with men held in detention, their lawyers and relatives, said some detainees alleged that while being held in secret they were tortured and coerced into giving false testimony.
In a response sent to Human Rights Watch researchers and reprinted in the report, the Moroccan government said it was not possible for anyone to be held in secret because the general prosecutor’s office oversees all arrests and detentions.
It also said allegations of torture and coercion were not credible because the detainees and their lawyers had opportunities to make formal complaints about this to the authorities but did not do so.
The Moroccan government’s counterterrorism measures “are carried out in accordance with the law and while respecting human rights, including the right to a fair trial,” the government said in its response.
Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Giles Elgood