The Case of Ali Aarrass
by Dyab Abou Jahjah from his weekly column
translated from Dutch by Oriana P.
A fellow citizen in jail
Ali Aarrass, a compatriot of you and me, can die at any moment in the Moroccan prison of Salé. Tortured, abandoned and dumped by Belgium he sits completely innocent in his cell and from today already sixty days without food. His hunger strike is a last cry of despair, a way to take his fate into his own hands and maybe in the hope to awaken others.
In 2008 Aarrass was arrested in Spain on suspicion of arms trafficking. He was acquitted but Morocco has sought his extradition on the basis of a statement by Abdelkader Belliraj, who allegedly named Aarrass in forced confessions through torture. Subsequently Aarrass was extradited from Spain to Morocco where he was tortured and forced to sign a document in Arabic, a language he does not understand. Not only Aarrass, his family and his lawyers but also Amnesty International say his confession is false and the result of torture.
Aarrass is a Belgian citizen who sits innocent in a Moroccan cell where he is tortured and humiliated. In a video from 2012, which was released by the family of Aarrass a few weeks ago, the effects of torture are clearly visible.
What does Belgium do? Nothing. Because Aarrass is also a Moroccan citizen and Belgium therefore argues it has no saying in his detention and torture. The Belgian courts think otherwise. Twice the state was condemned because it is obliged to give the regular and evident consular assistance to Aarrass. The state fights this decision and wants to appeal it while Minister of Foreign Affairs Didier Reynders (MR) sends a letter to his Moroccan colleague. In it he, very apologetic, asks about the condition of Aarrass adding the court told him to do so but immediately reassuring the Moroccans by saying Belgium is appealing the court's decision. Don't worry, Reynders is saying in other words, you may do what you want with that guy, we're on the same side and we oppose the scandalous statement by the Belgian court that we should assist a Belgian citizen of Moroccan origin in Morocco.
Moroccan citizenship law is exceptional and problematic. Moroccans can never renounce their nationality. Anyone with a Moroccan father is automatically Moroccan and will remain so forever. I'm allowed to give up my Lebanese nationality and, under Lebanese law, I can never get it back. In 2003, when I was a political prisoner in Belgium, Lebanon officially contacted Belgium and asked about my status even though I had only been in jail for six days. I greatly appreciated this. Imagine I was arrested in Lebanon. I would expect the Belgian government to ask the Lebanese government some official questions also. Having another or second nationality doesn't make us second class citizens. It also doesn't cancel our human rights. Especially when torture and other human rights violations are taking place has a democratic country, that considers human rights of paramount importance, an even greater obligation to defend its own citizens. Belgium is giving full assistance to Belgian drug smugglers, who are in South America in a hotel type prison. Public opinion sympathizes with them, books have been written and whole TV shows have been devoted to them. Hip, young, blond drugdealers. They probably didn't mean anything wrong.
But a Belgian immigrant father of 53 years old, who is unjustly in prison and tortured, arouses no interest in public opinion and can count on the hostility of the Belgian state and its complicity with the Moroccan regime. I fear that this will only change when the death of Ali Aarrass in his cell becomes a news item.
Will we let this happen? And what does that say about us? Is there no public opinion in Belgium that can put pressure on a government that acts in our name? A human being, a compatriot, hangs between life and death at this very moment, dumped in a cell, deserted by all of us except for a handful of activists and some who have taken an interest.
Don't say you didn't know.
~ Dyab Abou Jahjah, president of Movement X.