On 28 July 2009, a Sale court in Morocco sentenced Moroccan-Belgian Abdelkader Belleraj to life in prison for running an international terrorist network. The 34 other defendants on trial with Belleraj received sentences ranging from one to 30 years. While there is little doubt that Belleraj and some of his associates have committed grave crimes, the public and media have labeled six of the defendants “political detainees” because of allegations that they were arrested for their political affiliation rather than for having any real connection to terrorist actions or intentions.
Maelainin Laabadla, a Sahrawi member of the national council of the Islamist-inspired Party of Justice and Development (PJD), headed the PJD’s commission on the Western Sahara; Mustafa Moatassim served as Secretary General of the Civilized Alternative (Al Badil Al Hadari), a small, Islamist-inspired political party which was disbanded two days after his arrest; Mohamed Marouani and Amine Regala had been, respectively, the Secretary General and party spokesperson of the unauthorized party of the Nation (Al Oumma), an Islamist organization that had been seeking party status; and Abdelhafid Sriti worked as a television correspondent for Hezbollah’s Al Manar. The sixth politician, Hamid Najibi, a member of the national council of the Unified Socialist Party (PSU), and the only politician not affiliated with an Islamist party, received a suspended sentence of two years.
According to cable 09RABAT679 from 6 August 2009 the US and Belgian embassies were convinced that there was little evidence that the six politicians had any involvement in planning terrorist acts, and that the 35 defendants had been sentenced after an unfair trial.
“Despite repeated requests, the Government of Morocco did not provide satisfactory evidence to the Mission of a connection between the  politicians and the terrorist network.” And, according to a counselor at the Belgian Embassy, there was “no doubt” that the trial was unfair.
Some of the evidence used in the trial had been provided by Belgium and was written in French and Dutch, which “neither the accused and the prosecutor” could understand. The state’s evidence against all 35 of the accused consisted of the defendants’ statements to the police in which they implicate themselves and others, and two seizures of weapons which were allegedly intended to be used to conduct assassinations and other terrorist acts. The defendants initially affirmed their statements before a preliminary judge, but then retracted them before the trial judge, saying they had been obtained under duress or had been altered.
According to the cable:
11. (S/NF) The judge’s written decision on the case has not yet been made available, and it is, therefore, not clear what, if any, other evidence the GOM may have against the accused. The Moroccan Government provided to the Regional Affairs Office photographs of the seized weapons which included guns, ammunition, silencers, and balaclavas. Despite repeated requests, the GOM did not provide satisfactory evidence to the Mission of a connection between the politicians and the terrorist network.
The cable makes clear that there existed other very serious fair-trial concerns in the Belliraj case. Apparently the judge had repeatedly refused to allow the defense access to files, to call witnesses or to introduce evidence. In addition, nearly all the defendants alleged that their statements had been altered by the police. The Charge raised these concerns in his June 24 meeting with Human Rights Council Chairman Ahmed Herzenni, who acknowledged the irregularities and promised to review the trial following delivery of the verdict.
13. Calling the trial “pre-cooked,” Johan Jacobs, Counselor at the Belgian Embassy, said there is “no doubt” the trial was unfair. Not a single person had been acquitted, he observed, an unlikely outcome given the large number of defendants. He also questioned how an impartial judge could reach a verdict and determine sentences for 35 different individuals less than 12 hours after the closing arguments. He told PolOff that some of the evidence used in the trial had been provided by Belgium and was written in French and Dutch. Even though the evidence provided by Brussels was accurate and, in some cases damning, Jacobs wondered how the trial could be fair if neither the defense nor the prosecution could understand it. When the defense requested to have the files translated into Arabic, the court ruled that only parts of the files could be translated, orally, during court proceedings. This is a peculiar way ofhonoring a defendant’s right to know the evidence against him, he said, adding, “Some of these guys have real proof against them, but that does not change the fact that the trial was unfair.” Sidi Ali Maelainin called the lack of a fair trial “frightening.” In the context of national celebration of the reforms initiated by King Mohammed VI over the last ten years, he wondered, “How can this be possible in the new Morocco?”
The US embassy ended with the following damning end-paragraph:
14. (C) The GOM’s heavy-handed approach illustrates Morocco’s willingness to use its counterterrorism laws to marginalize Islamist-inspired political activities. The nearly universal belief that the verdict of this trial was predetermined by the Ministry of the Interior – a not unlikely scenario – highlights the lack of trust many Moroccans have in the justice system. Equally troubling for Morocco’s governance reform outlook is the plausible prospect that at least six defendants were tried and convicted for political reasons unrelated to zealous counter-terrorism objectives. If true, this would represent a manipulation of the courts not only for security goals but also to affect legitimate political activity – a step backward in the political and democratic progress the Kingdom has realized in the past decade. Although the GOM has made great progress in respecting human rights under King Mohammed VI, there is still room for improvement, particularly in respecting non-establishment viewpoints.