Twenty-seven Moroccan political inmates on hunger strike

RABAT, April 10 (Reuters) – Twenty-seven Moroccan political prisoners are in deteriorating health as they stage hunger strikes over alleged violations including solitary confinement and torture, the country’s main rights groups said on Tuesday.

The prisoners are protesting against “long detentions without trial…repeated provocations accompanied by threats and beatings and inhumane treatment including solitary confinement,” the Network of Human Rights Organizations said.

They also want investigation of torture they said they had suffered, and the right to medical treatment, it added.

The network, which groups 18 independent Moroccan right groups, published a list of 27 political prisoners, whom it said had been on hunger strike for several weeks or more after they were sentenced to jail or arrested for involvement in protests.

“Their health has been deteriorating while officials ignore their cases,” it said.

Justice and Public Freedoms Minister Mustafa Ramid and government spokesman Mustafa El-Khalfi could not immediately be reached for comment. The government says it is committed to upholding human rights, including for inmates.

Morocco has managed to avoid some of the “Arab Spring” turmoil after King Mohammed offered to trim his powers to contain mass pro-democracy protests last year. But regular protests continue to erupt against unemployment, poverty and official corruption. Some have turned violent.

Among the hunger strikers is Azzedine Erroussi, a left-wing activist and university student, who has been fasting since Dec. 12 in a prison in the impoverished northern city of Taza. Authorities moved him in late March to a hospital in Rabat.

Erroussi was sentenced to five months in prison for “insulting, abducting and beating” a police officer after he was arrested in early December during protests by students in Taza university. His supporters say the charges were concocted to silence a leading figure of the student protest movement.

The network also cited Abdeljalil Akadil who was among 10 people sentenced in January to four years in prison for arson of public property and attacking the police during riots over unemployment in the Atlantic coast city of Safi in August.

Akadil, a human rights activist, has been on hunger strike since Feb. 20, 2012, the network said. The country’s main human rights group AMDH says he had been tortured for three days after his arrest to force him to admit to involvement in the riots.

Abdessamad Haidour has been on hunger strike since March 12 after he was sentenced to three years in jail for slandering King Mohammed in an Internet video.

The network urged Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane to “quickly respond to the legitimate demands of the detainees on hunger strike” and “protect the right to life enshrined in international and human rights conventions”.

“We have witnessed in recent months a rise in the number of hunger strikers inside Moroccan prisons,” said Abdelilah Benabdeslam of the main AMDH right group, which is part of the network. “(This) is due to our law enforcement policy that too often sees imprisonment as a solution to every problem”.

Hafid Benhachem, head of Morocco’s Penitentiary Authority, could not be reached for comment.

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