Rabat: Human Rights Watch charged on Monday that Moroccan police have instituted a pattern of abuse under the country`s anti-terrorism law, notably by way of detentions carried out by the intelligence service.
In a report called "Stop Looking for Your Son: Illegal Detentions Under the Counterterrorism law in Morocco," the New-York based rights organisation said that the abuses "violate the progressive legislation Morocco adopted to safeguard against torture and illegal detention."
HRW staff told a press conference in Rabat that agents wearing plain clothes have in recent years turned up at homes and arrested people without any identification or explanation, then transported them blindfolded to a secret place of detention.
This practice has taken place under a law that was passed just after the Casablanca terrorist bombings of May 16, 2003, in which 45 people were killed, including 13 suicide bombers, and many were injured.
The HRW report was partly based on interviews conducted with people who had been detained between 2007 and 2010, and with their relatives. It includes a response from the Moroccan government, which Human Rights Watch welcomed.
Suspects are often held longer than the 12-day legal maximum in custody and "many of those held under those conditions say that they were tortured or ill-treated in detention," the report said.
"The authorities eventually transfer them to a police station, where officers present them with a statement for signature. Only after they have signed do most of them first see a lawyer and are their families initially notified of their whereabouts -- sometimes four or five weeks after their arrest.
"The failure of arresting agents to prove their identity as police is significant because the suspects and their families uniformly contend that those who carried out the arrests are agents of the domestic intelligence agency" -- the General Direction of the Surveillance of the Territory (DGST).
The report contains allegations that the DGST has a secret detention centre in or near Tamara, outside Rabat, and carries out arrests that are legally the responsibility of the police.
Moroccan authorities deny that such a detention facility exists and Rabat`s embassy in Washington on September 25 wrote to HRW to say: "Agents of the DGST are not officers of the criminal investigation police and do not act as such.
"The king`s prosecutor at the appeal court in Rabat visited the headquarters of the DGST, searched its premises and established a report indicating that there is no secret detention centre," the government said.
The government also responded to individual cases of detention cited in the HRW report and said the suspects were arrested by regular police, presented to the investigation judge within the legal timeframe and held in legal places of detention.
It said that families were notified and "the fact that some terrorism suspects refused to sign statements prepared for them by the police shows there is no coercion."