The Belgian government has set its face against saving the life of its citizen, on hunger and thirst strike in prison in Morocco, despite protests in a number of countries.
As we go to press, Ali Aarrass, a dual Belgian-Moroccan national, is in a critical condition in a prison in Salé, Morocco. As of 30 July, he is on the twentieth day of his hunger strike and on the sixth day of refusing water. He is barely conscious, unable to move or speak, and has no medical assistance.
A catalogue of injustice
The injustices he has borne and continues to bear make his decision to enter a life-threatening hunger and thirst strike intelligible. Extradited to Morocco by Spain in violation of a UN Human Rights Committee request for a stay, subjected to unspeakable tortures by the Moroccan intelligence services until he signed a document in Arabic (a language he does not understand) which served to convict him of involvement in terrorism at a flagrantly unfair trial, sentenced to twelve years’ imprisonment, all his complaints about his ill-treatment ignored, subjected to reprisals by senior prison officials after a meeting with UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez (whose independent medical expert confirmed the compatibility of his injuries with extreme torture) – such a process would drive anyone to despair.
But to cap it all, his and his family’s cries for help have been consistently ignored and rebuffed by the Belgian authorities.
The question of dual citizenship
Ali Aarrass is a Belgian citizen, not purely through the tie of formal nationality (as with his Moroccan citizenship), but through real ties. He lived there from the age of 15 until his forties. He went to school there, had a business there, performed his military service for Belgium and has many family and friends there. He has never lived in Morocco (he was born in Melilla, where he returned with his wife a few years ago), he has no family or friends there – the only connection he has with Morocco is his detention, torture, trial and imprisonment. Yet, at a time when he has the greatest need of consular protection, from the Belgian authorities comes only silence.
Belgian foreign minister Didier Reynders and his staff have simply stated that Ali is a Moroccan citizen and his recourse must be with the Moroccan authorities. This attempt to use the diplomatic convention of non-intervention with the authorities of a citizen’s other nationality is a figleaf which ignores the absolutely fundamental nature of the international law prohibition against torture.
Torture victim subjected to reprisals
Since his meeting with the Special Rapporteur last September, Ali Aarrass has been subjected to threats, intimidation and provocations, including threats of rape, by prison officials. A trigger for his current action was the arbitrary confiscation on 8 July of a Brussels marathon medallion complete with ribbon in the Belgian colours. It was his challenge to that action, and to the unlawful search of his cell in his absence during which postcards were ripped down from the walls, which resulted in the withdrawal of all rights from 10 July. No exercise, no showers, no phone, no mail, no contact with family or lawyers. And still, no help from the government for whom he gave up a year of his life in military service and whose flag he cherishes.
Ali’s supporters have protested to Belgian embassies in a number of capitals including London and Budapest as well as Rabat, as well as to the Moroccan authorities. But despite high profile support for Ali, the Belgian foreign minister refuses to budge.
We must not let Ali Aarrass become another casualty of the casual contempt with which too many European states treat their Muslim citizens.
Monsieur Didier Reynders, Vice-Premier Ministre et Ministre des Affaires étrangères, du Commerce extérieur et des Affaires européennes, email: email@example.com.
Send a copy to the Belgian Embassy at Rabat:
l’ Ambassade de Belgique à Rabat, email: Rabat@diplobel.fed.be
See the Amnesty International Urgent Action of 29 July, here.