Morocco frees jailed senior air force officer-lawyer

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 18, 2011 3:51 PM
Morocco frees jailed senior air force officer-lawyer

RABAT (Reuters) - Morocco's King Mohammed has pardoned a retired senior air force officer who was sentenced by a martial court to a 12-year jail term for complaining to the monarch about the poor treatment of former air force pilots.

"Kaddour Terhzaz walked free out of his prison this afternoon upon a royal pardon and after an iniquitous trial that ended up wasting two years of his life in jail for nothing," his lawyer Abderrahim Jamai told Reuters on Wednesday.

The Moroccan military could not be immediately reached for comment.

Human right groups, including Human Rights Watch, have been pushing for the release of the 73-year old former colonel since he was jailed in 2008 on grounds he had harmed "external state security by communicating a national defense secret."

A holder of dual French-Moroccan citizenship, Terhzaz held high ranks within Morocco's air force. He was charged in 2008, 13 years after he had retired.

According to his defense, the case against Terhzaz stemmed from a letter he wrote in 2005 to King Mohammed, the army's commander-in-chief, demanding better treatment of former air force pilots he once commanded after they had been captured by the Polisario Front during its war with Morocco in the late 1970s.

The Algeria-backed Polisario seeks an independent state in the disputed Western Sahara, which Morocco annexed in 1975.

According to Human Rights Watch, Terhzaz expressed in the letter his regret that they had not received promotions during the 25 years they spent in captivity and complained the state had not honored them in a manner that "befits their service and sacrifice."

He also wrote the warplanes they had been flying were not equipped with anti-missile systems and that Morocco gave better treatment to Polisario militants who had defected to the Moroccan side, according to Human Rights Watch.

Jamai did not link Terhzaz' release to recent street protests demanding reforms, including a justice system perceived by a majority of Moroccans as being biased, and that political prisoners be freed.

"Terhzaz was released as part of a royal pardon that benefited hundreds of prisoners on the occasion of Prophet Mohammad's birthday (on February 16)," he said.

(Reporting by Souhail Karam; Editing by Matthew Jones)