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Toulal 2 Prison – a cause for concern

Toulal 2 Prison – a cause for concern

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Toulal 2 Prison – a cause for concern

By:Yvonne Ridley
 
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment – Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Special acknowledgements:

This report is compiled by Yvonne Ridley, an independent human rights activist, journalist, and European President of the International Muslim Womens Union. She is also a Patron of the London-based NGO Cageprisoners.

She travelled to Morocco in August 2011 at the request of several human rights groups and organisations including Al-Karama, The Joint Committee of Former Islamist Detainees And The coordination of Truth for the Defense of Prisoners of Conscience and the Families of Detainees at Toulal 2 who are the subject of this report.

Special thanks also go to Mr. Hafid Benhachem, the former Director General of the Moroccan Government’s National Security who commands the Prison Administration from its headquarters in Rabat.

Copies will be sent to the Moroccan authorities, human rights groups in Morocco as well as Cageprisoners, Amnesty International, The Islamic Human Rights Commission and other interested parties including British politicians, human rights lawyers and the media.

Background:

On Sunday, July 31 2011 a number of inmates at Toulal 2 Prison in Meknès, Morocco began reciting from the Holy Qur’an and in a loud voice for the benefit of others who either did not have a copy of the Qur’an or could not read Arabic fluently.

The recitation seemed to agitate the guards who physically removed one reciter Abdellah El-Manfa’a from his cell. According to eyewitnesses Al-Manfa’a was then beaten which provoked on looking detainees to complain and protest loudly.

The Prison Prime Stronghold Ahmed Boujdia understood to have ordered the removal of Adil Ferdaoui from his cell and for him to be beaten across his head with a baton. During the assault, in which the victim was also dragged along the floor by his beard,he is said to have fallen unconscious.

The Prison Prime Stronghold allegedly then instructed his guards to rape this man using their batons. Another three inmates where then put through a similar ordeal. They are Adil Ferdaoui, Youssef Elkhodry and Abdessamad Lamsaimi.

All four were eventually removed to another location for a week and denied medical or family or legal access.

The prison authorities vehemently deny any such incident occurred and they further deny that on a subsequent visit the four men’s lawyer was subjected to intimidation and threats to drop any legal action or inquiry into the alleged incident.

Timeline:
Sunday, July 31 – Monday, August 1 2011
Alleged incident of male rape of four prisoners by guards using their batons to beat men before inserting the batons in each man’s rectal passage.
Monday, August 15 2011
Meknès lawyer Mr. Abdessamad Idrisi claims he was intimidated and ‘rough up’ by The Prison Prime Stronghold Ahmed Boujdia when he attempted to visit the four men who said they had been raped and abused.
Sunday, August 28 2011
Yvonne Ridley spoke with members of the inmates’ families in Casablanca.
Monday, August 29 2011
Yvonne Ridley interviewed the lawyer Mr. Abdessamad Idrisi at his offices in Meknès.
Monday August 29 2011
Yvonne Ridley had a meeting with Mr. Hafid Benhachem and his two deputies Mr. Mohammed Badda and Mr.Soufiane Ouamrou at the HQ of the Moroccan Prison Directorate in Rabat in which she handed a letter outlining her concerns about the rape allegations.

The alleged victims:

All four men who alleged they were raped by prison guards under the orders of Mr. Ahmed Boujdia (Nicknamed Al-Nagga which means she-Camel) have agreed, at the time of writing this report, to forgo anonymity.
The decision to have their full identities disclosed is surprising because of the huge stigma attached to victims of rape in Morocco, in particular victims of male rape.
In this society the burden of such a stigma is one borne not only by the victims but of their families and it can affect family reputations as well. It is important to highlight this because the decision to make such an accusation as well as the decision to go ‘on the record’ was not taken lightly nor without full consultation of family members where possible.
The men are Adil Ferdaoui, Abdellah El-Manfa’a, Youssef Elkhodry and Abdessamad Lamsaimi.

The lawyer:

Mr. Abdessamad Idrisi is a lawyer with his own offices and practice in Meknès a city in northern Morocco just over 80 miles from the capital Rabat.
He has taken statements from three of the four men who allege they were raped during the ‘Quran’ic Recital Incident’ in Toulal 2 Prison.
He has also issued his own statement in which he says he was subjected to abusive insults, humiliating and degrading treatment to a point where he felt he was about to be assaulted by the Prison Director Mr. Ahmed Boujdia (Al Nagga).
Of the clients he was allowed to see, he found them in a highly agitated state and fearful. He was not allowed any private meetings with the men who were wary of the guards around them.
He spoke in French with Ferdaoui and Abdessamad Lamsaimi who both outlined the allegations of male rape against themselves and El-Manfa’a and ElKhodry.
Mr. Idrisi gave Yvonne Ridley a two-page signed document in Arabic outlining his complaint about his own treatment and that of all four of his clients including the allegations of male rape.

Case histories

1. Abdessamad Lamsaimi: Aged 33 and prior to his arrest worked as a draughtsman in an aluminium factory. Married with one five-year-old daughter.He was sentenced in 2007 to 8 years after pleading not guilty to terror-related offences.

From the privacy of the family home in a Casablanca suburb this is what the victim’s father Moustapha Lamsaimi said:

“We heard that our son had been pulled out of his cell and beaten because he had complained about the treatment of the guards towards another inmate who was accused of reciting from the Holy Qur’an too loudly.
“We employed a lawyer to investigate the issue and we went to visit our son on the first Wednesday in Ramadan on August 3 but we were told we could not see him for 15 days. In the meantime the lawyer we employed managed to speak to him and he told him what had happened.
“The first response from the prison authorities was to try and force the four victims to sign statements saying the assaults never took place. I understand that Ferdaoui refused to sign.
“The Advocate General ordered an investigation but the police acting for the Advocate General seemed more interested in getting the men to drop the allegations rather than listen to their complaints.
“The treatment of my son was inhumane and my son was not treated like a human being. As his parents we want justice and we want our son’s dignity returned. His honour was attacked and all of the four should be returned to their families and the guards who carried out this attack should be taken to court.
“The people who committed this crime against my son are free.”

Lamsaimi’s mother added:

“I can not find the words to describe what they did to my son. We are all still clearly in a state of shock about the attack.
“When we finally did get to see him we were separated by two barriers. He was shaking and still in a state of shock over what had happened.”

The family are clearly, one month on, still in a state of shock and distress and unable to speak in great detail about the case without breaking down.

This is their son’s account to his lawyer:

“I was subjected to a torrent of beatings, because I protested against the disgusting manner in which Abdellah El-Manfa’a was beaten in. The reason for this was because he was reading the Quran.

“Subsequently I and another three Inmates; (Adil Ferdaoui, Abdellah El-Manfa’a, Youssef ElKhodry) were taken from our cells, beaten with batons then they inserted these batons into our rears. And they hit us on sensitive parts of our bodies while we were blind folded.

“They then took us to a designated location and we remained there for a week.

“I used to protest when I was in Sala Prison because I required medication for my allergies.

“I was not taken back to my cell until I promised I will no longer protest in writing under threats of torture if I do protest again.”

2. Adil Ferdaoui – Aged 28, sentenced in 2010 for four years on terror-related offences to which he pleaded not guilty. A bachelor from the city of Khribka.

From a family home I spoke with his two sisters – Karima and Fatima, the latter who had travelled from her home in Strasbourg, Franceon hearing of her brother’s rape.

Fatima said:

“I travelled from my home in France as soon as I heard what had happened. I will not leave until this is resolved. When I was told about the rape I was distraught.

“I’ve only seen him in prison once since it happened and I’ve never seen my brother look like that before. He was so upset. He is a man destroyed and in a very bad way. The guards who did this to him deserve to be executed.

“After beating and raping him they would not allow his family to see him and said he was in punishment. I am ready to challenge those responsible and I asked to see the Director of the Prison Mohamed El Charoudi, who I believe authorized the rape.

“They can try and deny it now but everyone knows what happened in that prison, who ordered the rape and who carried it out.”

This is his account to the lawyer:

He confirms that on the Monday following the last Royal speech
(31st July) Some of the inmates, who had their Qur’an, were reciting in a loud voice to benefit themselves and their brothers who don’t have a Qur’an or cannot read Arabic fluently. At this moment the prison guards appeared and removed Abdellah Al-Manfa’a from his cell and began to beat him within hearing distance of all the inmates.

The inmates began to protest against this by shouting and demanding a stop to this action. The Prison Prime Stronghold at this point pulled one of the brothers protesting out of his cell [Adil Ferdaoui]. He began to beat him across his head with his baton then he removed his trouser and exposed his nakedness. He pulled him from his beard and insulted him which eventually resulted in this brother falling unconscious. The remaining inmates in their cells then heard The Prison Prime Stronghold [Ahmed nicknamed “Al-Nagga”] instructing the guards to rape this brother and to fiddle with his private parts by inserting the baton into his rear!

After this the brother had his hands and feet bound together with a plastic bound which are extremely painful.

Then another three inmates where put through the same ordeal and they were; Abdellah Al-Manfa’a, Youssef ElKhodry and Abdessamad Lamsaimi. They were then bundled into a vehicle while being beaten and taken to a designated location for a week.

They did not leave this place until they wrote a statement affirming they will never protest again and there were threats of torture if they returned to it.

Finally Ferdaoui stated he was very hesitant and reluctant to say this in fear of reprisals inside the prison.

3. Youssef ElKhodry – Aged 22, sentenced in November 2007 for 15 years after pleading not guilty to terrorism-related charges.

Mrs Khodri said: “They beat him and removed his clothes and they raped him. He was tortured more than any of the others. When I saw him he was unable to speak infront of the guards but managed to tell me ‘we were tortured and everything you will be told from the lawyer will be the truth”.
Mrs ElKhodry also said her son had mentioned that the guards who carried out the rape had not previously been seen in the prison before and questioned if they were a ‘special squad’ trained to carry out this sort of abuse.
She explained: “Their faces were new – they were different. The other prisoners were also threatened with the same treatment if they complained.”

At the time of writing up this report I don’t believe the lawyer was given access to Youssef ElKhodry.

4. Abdellah Al-Manfa’a – At the time of writing this report the family of this young man could not be contacted and nor do I have access to a statement.

Moulay Omar Lamrani Hadi, an additional eyewitness and prisoner also gave a statement to the lawyer. Hadi is serving a 10-year sentence for terrorist-related offences to which he pleaded not guilty.

His Account:

He said that when Abdellah Al Manfa’a was reciting Quran in a loud voice the guards appeared. They took him out of his cell and began to beat him in a barbaric manner while the other inmate can hear. This caused the inmates to rise up against this as a whole. Consequently three other inmates were removed from their cells and put through brutal torture and the rest of the inmates could hear their screams.

He said: “We also heard the order to rape them and insert batons into their rears. Then they were taken to a specific location, away from the cells were they remained for a week.”

The official response

I visited Morocco’s Prison Administration Delegate-General Hafid Benhachem, who is the overall head of the prison service based in Rabat. He was brought out of his retirement from 2003 and appointed in 2008 by King Mohammed VI who moved responsibility for prison administration, from the Ministry of Justice, and gave it to the newly created Directorate under the Prime Minister’s Office.
It was a cold call and I did not expect to see anyone of any importance so requested to deliver by hand a letter for the attention of Mr Benhachem.
To my surprise one of his deputies,introduced to me as Mohammed Badda, agreed to see me and I handed him the letter and explained the purpose of my visit. He appeared extremely hostile to the accusations but was polite and courteous at all times.
He denied any rape, and asked me not to use the term “rape” and said there was no such abuse in the Moroccan prison system.
I told him I believed there was “compelling evidence” to convince me something untoward had happened on the night of July 31st and that pious Muslim men would not make an allegation of rape and waive the rights to anonymity without very serious consideration because of the huge stigma attached.
He was dismissive of this and so we both agreed to disagree. He also insisted Morocco had no such history or background of abuse in its treatment of prisoners.
I requested access to the four men at the centre of the rape allegations with an independent medical practitioner but this request was denied.
I expressed concern that the police investigation appeared flawed and that no medical or forensic examination of the prisoners had been conducted and it was now getting on for four weeks after the attack.
After a brief exchange about Morocco’s previous history with regards the War on Terror and recorded evidence of abuse and torture in the prison system we parted company and I thanked him for his time.
Shortly after leaving the building with two local representatives of the Al-Karama NGO, I was requested to return as Mr Benhachem said he would see me.
At their request I re-entered the building alone and was taken alone to his office suite on the fourth floor where he arranged a female translator for me to address him and his two deputies, Mr. Badda whom I’d met previously and Mr. Soufiane Ouamrou.
As I tried to relay my investigation he was quite dismissive, as were his deputies, of any abuse or evidence of wrongdoing by the guards in the prison. To my surprise the translator became extremely hostile and also interrupted saying the story of the male rape was simply not true and lies. I asked her how, in her capacity as a mere translator, she could know to which she replied: “I know it’s a lie. It’s not true.” I put this down to blind loyalty and emphasized, as I had earlier, that I was not an enemy of Morocco but to remain in denial of any abuse was not serving any useful purpose at all.
Again Mr. Benhachem was dismissive but I pointed out that even the King of Morocco had expressed the need for reform in the prison system on the eve of Ramadahn, so if the King thought there was need for reform there must be some faults within the system.
However he and his deputies insisted that everything that happened in the prison system was correct and proper. Interestingly enough he also emphasized saying he wanted to make it “crystal clear” to me that “nothing, but nothing happens here without me knowing; and that goes for my deputies as well. I know what happens on my watch and that is 24/7.”
I felt this to be an extraordinary claim but he was equally adamant that nothing happened in the service without his knowledge or that of his deputies.
When I raised the issue of the lawyer and said the lawyer had reported being abused and was fearful of being assaulted he declared: “He is lying.”
By the time the meeting drew to a close there was an additional male translator and two others in the room.
I closed the meeting by saying there was nothing to be gained by continuing the conversation since they seemed to be completely in denial and liked their stance to that of the overall Commander in Guantanamo who I’d previously interviewed. He too denied anything “untoward happened in my watch” using a phrase similar to Mr. Benhachem. I remarked that I expected the head of Abu Ghraib would have said something similar as well.
Again my concerns were dismissed and Mr Benhachem said he was growing weary of all the “lies” that surrounded him.
The only thing we were all agreed was that human rights are universal and for everyone regardless of faith, nationality of culture.
I did promise to compile a report and send a copy to Mr Benhachem and thanked him for his time and that of his deputies.
Meeting the chief architect of the prison system and his two enforcers was unexpected and a great bonus but not a pleasurable or enlightening encounter.
However, it did give an insight into the mindset confronting human rights groups that attempt to raise concerns about the welfare of the some 60,000 prisoners held in the prison system.

Miscellaneous

Although unconnected it is worth mentioning that Amnesty International raised similar concerns over the welfare of a prisoner who was beaten and threatened with rape in the same prison earlier this year.
In a statement released on June 17 2011 Amnesty International said it “urges the Moroccan authorities to immediately investigate allegations that Mohamed Hajib was tortured and threatened with rape while in Toulal 2 Prison in Meknes between 17 and 28 May 2011. Amnesty International fears that Mohamed Hajib is being punished for calling for the closure of the Témara detention centre and denouncing violations committed by the Moroccan authorities in the context of countering terrorism. A dual Moroccan/German national, Mohamed Hajib is serving a 10-year sentence for terrorism-related offences.”

Recommendations

1. All the prisoners alleging rape be thoroughly medically examined by an independent medical examiner.
2. A new and independent police investigation be conducted with an emphasis on listening and gathering evidence rather than suppressing it as has been alleged.
3. An internal investigation into the original police investigation be carried out to establish why no immediate forensic medical evidence was gathered as well as other alleged short-comings.
4. Anyone suspected of carrying out the attacks should be processed through the courts to stand trial, including guards who may have witnessed but failed to stop the alleged rapes and more senior officers accused of ordering and encouraging the alleged attacks.
5. A review of the day-to-day running of the prison to look for areas of improvement with regards prisoner living conditions and their human rights.
6. An independent team made up of local, national and international NGOs be allowed to visit the prison and access all areas including interviews with prisoners and prison staff to assess living and working conditions in Toulal 2.
7. The appointment of a Muslim chaplain to offer and advise the authorities in Toulal 2 about the spiritual nurture and care of detainees.
8. Detainees be allowed wrist watches or time pieces so they are aware of prayer times and have access to copies of the Holy Qur’an at all times with similar provisions for those of other faiths.

External References and contacts<attached>

Amnesty International statement, June 17 2011

Statement from lawyer Mr Abdessamad Idrisi, August 20 2011

Yvonne Ridley letter to Mr Hafid Benhachem, August 29 2011

Contact details of human rights groups who will receive the report

1. Yvonne Ridley, author of this report, at yvonne@yvonneridley.org
2. Cageprisoners: contact@cageprisoners.com
3. Islamic Human Rights Commission info@ihrc.org
4. Al-Karama: info@alkarama.org
5. Amnesty International: press@amnesty.org.uk
6. Human Rights Watch hrwpress@hrw.org
7. World Organization Against Torture omcteurope@omct.org
8. Behind Bars behindbarsnet@gmail.com
9. A Voice For Political Prisoners in Morocco voiceforprisoners@hotmail.co.uk
10. Avocats sans Frontieres: info@asf.be

* In addition hard copies of the report will be published and distributed to international human rights lawyers, politicians, media and other interested parties as well as the offices of Mr Hafid Benhachem

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