Morocco report: 2 imprisoned on homosexuality charges

Human Rights Watch reports:

Location of al-Hoceima in Morocco. (Map courtesy of BBC)
Location of al Hoceima in Morocco. (Map courtesy of BBC)

RABAT, Morocco, March 4 – Two men accused of consensual homosexual activity are serving prison terms after a trial that seems to have been unfair, Human Rights Watch and the Aswat Group for Sexual Minorities, a Moroccan group, said today.

[A short account of the trial and sentencing appeared in this blog’s article “Al Hoceima, Morocco: Jail time reduced” on Jan. 4.]

The First Instance Court in the Mediterranean city of al Hoceima convicted the two defendants of sodomy in a very brief trial held only five days after their December 13, 2014 arrest. They were convicted based on “confessions” the police said the defendants made in pretrial detention but that the defendants repudiated before the judge. The court called no witnesses to testify. An appeals court upheld the sentence on December 30.

Sarah Leah Whitson,  Middle East and North Africa director  for Human Rights Watch
Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director for Human Rights Watch

“The combination of a state that enforces sodomy laws, a justice system that denies a fair trial, and the social stigma attached to homosexuality is a formula for damaging people’s lives,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director.

The al Hoceima Appeals Court upheld the conviction for committing a “deviant sexual act with a member of the same sex” (penal code article 489) and “public indecency” (article 483), but reduced the sentences for both men from three years in prison and a fine to six months for one and one year for the other, who was also convicted of attempted bribery (article 251).

Human Rights Watch has documented a pattern by which Moroccan courts violate the right to a fair trial by relying on confessions to convict defendants and by failing to investigate seriously or at all when defendants repudiate those statements as either coerced or falsified. Defendants in many cases or their lawyers have repeatedly told Human Rights Watch that the police either forced or intimidated the defendants into signing their statements without reading them.

Moroccan law penalizes what it refers to as acts of “sexual deviancy” between members of the same sex, a term that police reports and court documents use to refer to homosexuality more generally.

Morocco’s 2011 Constitution states, in article 24, “All persons have the right to protection of their private life.” This right, absent in the previous constitution, should lead to the abolition of the law criminalizing consensual same-sex conduct, Human Rights Watch and Aswat said.

At about 11 p.m. on December 13, a group of gendarmes stopped a car they observed to be driving erratically on a coastal road in al Hoceima province, the police report of the incident says. As the gendarmes approached the car, the younger passenger waved his arm as if he wanted to tell them something.

When the gendarmes separated the two men in the car to question them, the report says, they observed that the younger man “showed signs of homosexuality (sexual deviancy) in his movements, manner of speaking and behavior.” He said the older man had tried to rape him. The driver denied it and said that they had only been “caressing,” the police report states. It then notes that the older man offered the gendarmes the 970 dirhams (US$100) he had in his pocket if they would agree to let the men go. The gendarmes took both men to a police station in Imzouren for more questioning.

The older defendant is an elected local official in his 50s and the other a student in his 20s. …

Criminalizing consensual, adult homosexual conduct violates international human rights law. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Morocco has ratified, bars interference with the right to privacy. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has condemned laws against consensual homosexual conduct as violations of the ICCPR. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has held that arrests for consensual homosexual conduct are, by definition, human rights violations.

“If Morocco truly aspires to be a regional leader on human rights, it should lead the way in decriminalizing homosexual conduct,” Whitson said.

For more information, see the full Human Rights Watch article, which includes information about:

  • Police harassment.
  • The defendants’ repudiation of their “confessions.”
  • Interrogation by police without a lawyer being present.
  • The court’s acceptance of the “confessions” despite a court rule that confessions obtained through “violence or coercion shall not be considered as evidence.”
  • Plans for an appeal.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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