[Ppnews] The Moroccan jailed by three kings

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Apr 21 19:17:11 EDT 2008

The Moroccan jailed by three kings

Mohamed Bougrine has been a constant thorn in the flesh of the 
Moroccan authorities - resistance fighter, dissident and human rights 
campaigner. James Copnall meets a man who expects to return to jail, 
despite a recent royal pardon.

Seventy-two-year-old Mohamed Bougrine is not just the "prisoner of 
three kings".

He also held another title - Morocco's oldest political detainee - 
but that no longer applies.

At the beginning of the month, the old man was given a royal pardon, 
following several months in jail for what the authorities termed 
"lacking the respect due to the king".

Mohamed had taken to the streets in solidarity with men who had been 
locked up on a May Day march.

Armed struggle

Since he was a teenager, Mohamed has been campaigning against what he 
sees as evident injustice.

First it was the French colonisers. Then it was the Moroccan monarchy 
that replaced them.

A committed left-winger and human rights activist, he does not flinch 
from admitting he participated in armed movements against the state.

At first, it is difficult to reconcile that flinty portrait with the 
man who steps out of his house to greet me, a maroon cape billowing 
around him, a fluffy white hat on his head and a friendly gleam in his eyes.

Inside his modest but impeccably tidy home, Mohamed is true to the 
traditions of Moroccan hospitality, keen to make sure his visitors 
are at ease, while his wife, Fatima, pours mint tea from a burnished 
silver pot and distributes pastries.

But when he starts to describe his six jail terms, the steely 
strength of his determination becomes clear.

First arrest

"I was arrested for the first time 17 March 1960," he says, every 
date stuck in his mind.

"I was freed on Thursday 30 December 1966."

He had taken up arms against the royal army, and was heavily beaten 
in prison, he says.

That experience did not come close to stopping him.

Mohamed was imprisoned four times under the next Moroccan king, 
Hassan II, sometimes for supporting resistance movements, at other 
times for his political activity.

Hassan II was highly regarded for his political skills, but presided 
over a dictatorial regime in which opponents and human rights 
activists were regularly rounded up and tortured.

Mohamed does not try to hide the crimes he committed which led him to 
jail - indeed he seems proud of his personal acts against the regime.

But in the middle of his story, narrated in a clear, even voice, he 
suddenly loses control of his emotions.

Twenty-six of his comrades were killed in prison, he explains - and 
as he does so his voice cracks.

Then, he says, struggling to get the words out, they stripped his 
mother-in-law naked in front of him, to humiliate them both.

Difficult years

Suddenly the upright militant can no longer keep the tears from flowing.

Fatima hands him a paper tissue and he wipes his eyes, apologising 
profusely for his lack of control.

"I love my wife," he says, in a quiet but firm way that brings a 
timid but very proud smile to her face.

The many years Mohamed spent in jail were clearly extremely difficult 
for his family.

His son grew up without his father for the first five years of his 
life - and everyone was shocked when Mohamed was arrested again last year.

His royal pardon came just a few days before King Mohamed VI visited 
Beni Mellal on a tour of the regions.

The long road leading past Mohamed Bougrine's house, named after the 
king who first imprisoned him, is crowded with the red and green 
Moroccan flags, and larger-than-life portraits of the current 
sovereign, to celebrate his day in the town.

It was another reminder of the cult of personality around the king, 
one which has scarcely changed over the years.

'Despotic regimes'

Mohamed Bougrine seems a good person to ask if life in Morocco is 
improving under Mohamed VI.

Hassan II's son received high praise for opening up Morocco when he 
came to the throne in 1999.

Prisoners were released, more rights granted, and some of the abuses 
of the past were admitted, for the first time.

Still, the old man in the white hat is not convinced.

"Hassan II ruled the country with an iron fist," Mohamed says.

"Mohamed VI rules with an iron fist - but in a velvet glove."

"He talks about reconciliation and humanitarian issues, but it's all a bluff."

Mohamed Bougrine says he has no personal problems with the three 
kings who have locked him up, and has no desire for revenge.

But he wants a true democracy for his country, and says almost all 
Arab regimes are despotic.

His 27-year-old son - the one who hardly knew his father growing up - 
is already a human rights campaigner, ready to follow in his dad's footsteps.

As I get ready to head back to Rabat, I ask Mohamed a last question.

After more than a decade in jail, after being tortured and 
humiliated, and at his advanced age, would he be prepared to go to 
prison again for his beliefs?

The response was as firm as this extraordinary man's convictions.

"I don't think I have been in jail for the last time, and it doesn't 
scare me," he said. "I am fighting for a better Morocco."

 From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday 19 April, 2008 
at 1130 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check the 
schedules for World Service transmission times.
Story from BBC NEWS:

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