Morocco continues to stay in the media spotlight over its human rights record both inside the country and around the world. Barely days after its own parliament snubbed a semi official vote in the European Parliament where MEPs slammed Rabat’s human rights and judiciary in its treatment of three journalists locked up there, Rabat now has to make a tough decision over a Saudi which is currently in police custody in Morocco.
According to Human Rights Watch, the Moroccan authorities may extradite a Saudi citizen to Saudi Arabia, where he is at serious risk of arbitrary detention, torture, and an unfair trial, it claimed on January 26th.
Moroccan authorities detained Hassan Al Rabea at the Marrakesh Airport on January 14, 2023, as he was attempting to travel to Turkey. Saudi prosecutors are seeking to try Al Rabea for working with “terrorists” to help him leave Saudi Arabia “irregularly,” based on an arrest warrant that Human Rights Watch has reviewed, it claims.
“Given the rampant torture and due process violations in Saudi Arabia’s criminal justice system, Morocco should not forcibly return Hassan Al Rabea there and risk complicity in Saudi abuses,” said Joey Shea, Saudi Arabia researcher at Human Rights Watch.
The authorities have previously targeted other members of Al Rabea’s family, including two cousins who were executed in 2019 for alleged protest-related and terrorism offenses and a brother facing a death sentence for alleged terrorism. Al Rabea belongs to the Shia minority, which faces systemic discrimination by the Saudi state.
Mr Rabea and his family are of the Shia Islamic faith, a minority in Saudi Arabia who are habitually mistreated and the victims of human rights abuses based on their faith and their sympathy for Iran and its religious leaders.
A family member told Human Rights Watch that while Al Rabea was at Marrakesh airport, he messaged a friend, “I don’t know what is going on, but there is something wrong.” Friends and family were unable to reach Al Rabea after he sent this message.
Human Rights Watch obtained an arrest warrant issued by Saudi’s public prosecution and stamped by the Department of International Cooperation. It shows that the Public Prosecution ordered Al Rabea’s arrest on October 19, 2022, on charges of “collaboration with terrorists by having them agree and collaborate with him to get him outside of Saudi Arabia in an irregular fashion,” a crime that can carry a maximum prison sentence of up to 20 years. A provisional arrest warrant was issued on November 22, 2022, upon the request of Saudi authorities.
Yet little is known about the validity of the charges and “collaborating with terrorists” could be simply chatting on the internet with Iranians.
Al Rabea appeared in Morocco’s Court of First Instance on January 14, after which he was sent to Tiflet 2 prison to await a decision by the Rabat Court of Cassation on his extradition, according to court documents viewed by Human Rights Watch.
Al Rabea’s relative told Human Rights Watch that he left Saudi Arabia in late 2021 to escape continued harassment by Saudi authorities. Al Rabea initially traveled to Ukraine, and then to Indonesia at the onset of the Russian invasion, before eventually arriving in Morocco in the summer of 2022, the family member said.
Al Rabea’s arrest and detention in Morocco is the latest targeting of members of the Al Rabea family by the Saudi government. The authorities in recent years have increasingly retaliated against the family members of critics and dissidents abroad in an effort to coerce them to return to the country.
Two of Al Rabea’s cousins, Hussein Al Rabea and Ahmed Al Rabea, were executed on April 23, 2019, in a mass execution of 37 men, 33 of them Shia, who had been convicted following unfair trials for various alleged crimes, including protest-related offenses, espionage, and terrorism.
It is feared that Morocco will indeed go ahead with the extradition in defiance of any opprobrium from the EU as a snub to Brussels and to support the Saudi Royal family which it has close ties with and in many ways admires and wants to follow, given the human rights downward spiral in Morocco in the last 15 years with now barely a cigarette paper between Riyad and Rabat in how the latter arrests journalists and reacts to any debate on political matters which questions the established narrative.