Today marks five years since Spain forcibly returned Ali Aarrass, a Belgian-Moroccan national, to Morocco, breaching its international human rights obligations.
Upon his arrival in Morocco, Ali Aarrass said he was held incommunicado and tortured for 12 days in a secret detention centre in Témara near the capital, Rabat. He is now serving a 12-year prison term for participating in and procuring arms for a criminal group after an unfair trial, based on a “confession” obtained under torture. In September 2012, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture visited him in prison and detected signs of torture compatible with his testimony.
Although the Moroccan authorities announced in May 2014 that they were opening an investigation into Ali Aarrass’ torture allegations, his lawyers recently revealed that the investigation had been closed. They said they had not been informed that any witnesses were questioned or any locations identified were searched, and have yet to receive the medical report of the examination he undertook a year ago.
Yet Ali Aarrass is determined to get justice. This year, he went on a 72-day hunger strike urging the Moroccan authorities to release him and denouncing the failure of the Court of Cassation to reach a decision, nearly three years after he appealed against his conviction. In a moving letter published today, he thanks his supporters, and everyone who has been sending him letters, for giving him continuous strength and hope.
Amnesty International is not able to verify everything that Ali Aarrass says in this letter, and the views he expresses in it are his own, but believes it is an important personal statement and merits publication.
The days are endless but I try to stay positive, for my family and for myself. I really want to see them again. My parents, my wife, my daughter whom I love so much. I miss them all terribly…
I am always alone in this cell because I am detained under a high security regime, which means permanent isolation. There is nothing to do. What keeps me going is looking forward to the best thing I can have in this prison: the phone call with my family, hearing their voices, hearing them tell me they are well, laughing with them… It is my oxygen…
And then there are the many letters I receive from around the world, thanks to Amnesty International. They warm my heart! They give me energy!
The days are endless, but as long as I am awake, I rise above it and I can resist everything. The threats, the humiliation, the insults and even ill-treatment….
The worst time is at night.
Last night, like so many other nights, I woke up in a cold sweat because of a nightmare. It was 3am. These sudden awakenings caused by fright and anxiety are a common occurrence, and each time I have to get out of bed and pace up and down my cell. I find it hard to walk but I force myself. I am still suffering from the torture and ill-treatment that has been inflicted on me for so long now, and which continues. During the day I manage to overcome my fears, but when I am asleep my subconscious takes over and I am unable to fight it.
I spend a long time trying to fall asleep, often in vain, because to sleep well you have to feel safe. I make the most of being awake to pray at dawn. It is in this silence disrupted by my sobs that I pray and implore God to look after my family, my acquaintances and the oppressed everywhere in the world. I use the end of my prayer to beg Him to bring me justice and freedom. I thank Him for the right to life that he has given me and for all my blessings, such as they are…
It is still dark when I finish. Sleep finally overtakes me but the noise of the keys in the locks and the voices of the prison wardens wake me again. I have to get ready to receive my breakfast.
That is how my nights have been for a very long time.
It doesn’t matter how many times I am told that support from outside is pointless, I am convinced it is not true. Because even if I don’t regain my freedom before the end of this unfair prison term, I can promise you that the work of human rights defenders does us a lot of good!
And if I had a message to give to the world, it would be this:
You who enjoy total freedom!
You who have no idea what it would be like to lose it!
You who might prefer not to know!
You who think it only happens to those who are guilty!
You are wrong, I am an innocent man and yet here I am!
Take a few minutes to encourage and support these human rights defenders and their work.
This work helps people like me to stay strong and hopeful.
To never feel alone!
When you are supported, you have the capacity to resist and denounce what people may struggle to understand, especially those who subject you to these inhuman conditions.
There are some things that can never be forgotten.
I will never forget those who support me.
Salé II Prison
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