By Siham Ali
Morocco’s newly appointed justice minister could soon seek a royal pardon for Salafist jihadists.
Justice Minister Mustapha Ramid has long been a champion of the issue, working for detainees as a lawyer and during his time as chairman of the Forum for Dignity (Al Karama). The minister, a member of the moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD), is expected to announce his official position on the cases soon.
The Salafists have high expectations. Since the release of around ten Salafist detainees after a pardon from King Mohammed VI following a recommendation from the National Human Rights Advisory Council (CNDH) in April 2011, others have been waiting for their turn. Ramid’s appointment has revived those hopes.
Released nine months ago, former Salafist detainee Mohamed Fizazi was once sentenced to 30 years in prison because of the ideological influence he had over the 2003 Casablanca bombers. Fizazi said his wish came true with Ramid’s appointment to the justice ministry.
“Ramid is courageous in defending people’s rights. He defended our cause with great daring. He now needs to open an inquiry into the case of the Salafists, which is clearly a thorny issue and full of injustice,” commented the man known as the “Prince of the Salafists”.
The minister has made it known that his ministry cannot intervene in cases that have already gone before independent magistrates. According to Ramid, the only solution available for the moment is to prepare a case for a royal pardon, and to lay it before the sovereign.
The minister said that there would certainly be the possibility of a legislative general amnesty under Article 71 of the new constitution, but that the procedure would be lengthy. “No individual, including the justice minister, has the right to intervene now or at any time in the future in decisions taken by magistrates,” Ramid said.
Salafist detainees welcomed the Justice and Development Party’s (PJD) rise to power due to the position the party has taken in respect of their case, according to political analyst Magid Ibrahimi. But he added that they wonder if Abdelilah Benkirane and his justice minister will manage to solve the problem in the near future, given that the release of the prisoners does not fall within the executive’s powers.
“PJD party activists defended the Salafist prisoners. Now they are in power, they must show what they are capable of doing,” Ibrahimi told Magharebia. “Will they manage to bring pressure to bear on the Sovereign to continue the process of issuing royal pardons, which began last April to be granted to those who said they had changed their attitudes during their time in prison, and to others who had fallen victim to the law on terrorism?” he wondered.
He also said that while detainees awaited an outcome on the matter, the current government had a duty to improve daily life for the prisoners, who complain about unsatisfactory conditions.
On this point, Ramid said that the administrative body responsible for managing penal establishments was not under the authority of the Ministry of Justice, meaning that the ministry was unable to study the situation facing these prisoners and rectify any failings. He has promised to look into the matter and set things moving in the right direction.