RABAT, Morocco (AP) — Torture is systematic in Morocco for cases involving anti-government demonstrators and those accused of terrorism, a U.N. expert said Saturday after concluding a fact-finding mission in the North African kingdom.
U.N. special rapporteur on torture Juan Mendez spent a week visiting prisons and police stations throughout the country.
"It appears that there's an increase in occurrences of excessive force when the police or other authorities respond to incidents that involves assembly," he told reporters. "Whether demonstrations are authorized or not, does not give authorities the right to exercise excessive force."
In addition to visiting detention center, Mendez also met with activists and civil society representatives. He said, however, that these meetings often occurred under the surveillance of authorities, resulting in a "climate of oppression."
Morocco, a close Western ally, has presented itself as a model for the region in coping with Arab Spring unrest through reform. While tens of thousands protested in 2011 for greater democracy and less corruption, the protests fizzled after a new constitution was presented and early elections were won by an opposition party.
The government has not commented on Mendez's statement, but earlier described his visit as proof of Morocco's commitment to human rights.
"It is a precedent reflecting the confidence Morocco has in its capacity to respects its international engagements and deal frankly with questions and problems of human rights," Communications Minister Mustapha al-Khalfi said on Thursday to the state news agency.
Mendez, who will present his full report to the U.N.'s Council on Human Rights in Geneva in March, also said that a culture of human rights was developing in Morocco.
Activists, however, report that there have been renewed crackdowns by police on those calling for greater reforms a year after the protests.
According to the Moroccan Association for Human Rights, between 70 and 80 activists from the pro-democracy February 20 movement are currently in prison.
In a Sept. 17 statement, the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said the sentencing of five activists for assaulting police officers took place after what may have been an unfair trial involving torture.
"The court sent protesters to jail on the basis of confessions allegedly obtained under torture, while refusing to summon the complainants to be heard in court," said Eric Goldstein, the group's North Africa director. "Morocco can guarantee fair trials only when courts seriously investigate allegations of coerced confessions and dismiss as evidence any confessions the police obtained improperly."