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Casablanca prisoners end hunger strike

By Mawassi Lahcen for Magharebia in Casablanca – 06/01/10

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Prisoners held on terrorism charges in Casablanca ended their 42-day hunger strike on Monday (January 4th), after guards and prison administration agreed to initiate a dialogue on why certain prison privileges had been revoked.

The hunger strike was sparked on November 23rd, when Okasha Prison authorities searched the prisoners' cells and all the items brought to the prison by the inmates' families.

The prisoners began striking on November 24th following the search and the "unprecedented" seizure of their personal belongings, according to Abdel Rahim Mahtad, who defends the human rights of terrorism suspects through the Nasir Association for the Defence of Islamic Detainees.

However, one prisoner is continuing to refuse food. Sheikh Hassan Kettani maintains he is innocent and that he has been unjustly incarcerated. Kettani, a formerly prominent preacher, is serving 20 years after his conviction for inciting the perpetrators of the 2003 Casablanca bombings.

The strike is the latest development in Morocco's ongoing struggle to balance human rights and security.

Moroccan authorities admitted in 2005 that abuses were committed during the systematic roundup of suspects following the Casablanca bombings. The broad sweep for potential suspects drew criticism from human rights organisations such as the Forum for the Dignity of Human Rights.

"Many people who were arrested in the crackdown by Moroccan security authorities after the terrorist incidents were not connected to these incidents, and it's wrong that they remain in prison," said the forum's president, Mustafa Ramid.

Ramid said that prisoners lawfully convicted of terrorist activity should "serve their sentences". However, he said that prisoners who simply flirted with takfirism but never acted on it deserve special consideration.

"We believe a dialogue should be initiated with them to examine their previous positions," Ramid said.

Moroccan authorities maintain that the widespread arrests were necessary.

"Moroccan security had no choice but to make precautionary arrests," an anonymous security source told Magharebia. "Many people were arrested because of their apparent sympathy with terrorist groups and their being influenced by takfirism and jihadism. They could, at any moment, move from passive sympathy to action. This is what Moroccan security did not allow to happen" by arresting thousands after the bombing.

Morocco gradually improved conditions for the prisoners, even granting 350 of those convicted of terrorism a royal pardon with unconditional release in 2005 and 2006. Over 1,000 Salafi jihadist detainees came to enjoy more privileges within prisons in Casablanca and Kenitra.

A March 2008 attempt by jihadist prisoners to escape Kenitra Prison, however, resulted in stricter rules for prisoners, and many of their privileges were rescinded.

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    Anonymous 2010-10-10

    Who founded Casablanca?