PARIS – A French anti-torture organization being sued by the Moroccan government said Wednesday the action was an attempt by the North African kingdom to discourage future lawsuits against those responsible for torture.
Morocco's Interior Ministry announced Tuesday night it was suing the Action by Christians Against Torture group, after a lawsuit by the group nearly resulted in the arrest in February of the country's intelligence chief while he was visiting Paris.
The Paris prosecutor's office had no immediate comment on the Moroccan action. In France, a legal complaint must be accepted as worthy of investigation, or thrown out.
"We think it's a way to muzzle torture victims, to dissuade them from filing suit," said Helene Legeay, who handles North Africa for the activist group. "We are not very surprised."
The anti-torture group has filed three lawsuits against Morocco on behalf of Moroccans who accuse the intelligence chief of complicity in their torture.
One of these suits resulted in a French judge sending police to the Moroccan ambassador's residence to bring in Abdellatif Hammouchi, in Paris at the time, for questioning. He wasn't present at the residence, but the attempt sparked a diplomatic spat between the two countries that saw the summoning of the French ambassador to Rabat and the suspension of a judicial cooperation accord.
"The suit filed by the Moroccan Ministry of the Interior condemns the exploitation of the French judicial process by the authors of these false accusations of torture," according to the Moroccan statement.
The lawsuit that set off the diplomatic spat was filed on behalf of a French-Moroccan citizen arrested in 2008 and convicted of non-political crimes. The suit filed by Action by Christians Against Torture claims he was tortured at the infamous Temara detention center. A similar suit on behalf of second French-Moroccan arrested in 2010 also was filed.
The statement by Morocco's Interior Minister claimed the group filing the suits was known for its anti-Moroccan bias.
A U.N. delegation investigating prison conditions in Morocco said in December that torture still exists, but it is no longer as systematic as it once was.
Associated Press writer Paul Schemm contributed to this report from Rabat, Morocco.