28 March 2012
Italy / Morocco
Italian authorities drag their feet in Britel case
Abou Elkassim Britel, an Italian citizen with Moroccan origins who has been in detention since his arrest in Pakistan in March 2002 and subsequent rendition to Morocco, who the European Parliament's TDIP commission identified as a rendition victim, calling on "the Italian government to take concrete steps in order to obtain the immediate release of Abou Elkassim Britel", remains in Äin Borja prison in Casablanca, as his wife and lawyer criticised the Italian authorities' inaction.
He was interrogated by CIA officers following his detention in pakistan, and was detained in a secret Moroccan detention facility in Temara, about which several reports of torture and ill-treatment have surfaced, and where Britel himself claim he was tortured, in May 2002, before his short-lived release in February 2003 (he was re-arrested in May 2003 and subsequently tried and sentenced for terrorist offences).
In an emotional letter to foreign affairs minister Massimo D'Alema on 17 January 2007, Britel's wife complained about the government's failure to take any initiative, after undersecretary Luigi Li Gotti committed to do so on its behalf in parliament to secure his "immediate release". Noting that the former government's responsibility in the case does not exempt its successor from "acting on behalf of a citizen whose rights have been so seriously offended, Khadija Anna Lucia Pighizzini reminds D'Alema of her "demanding and solitary battle" for her "husband's life", which she reputes to be in danger, particularly after the latest disappointment of not having been included in the amnesty decreed on 1 March 2007 by king Mohammed VI on occasion of the birth of his second child on occasion of the birth of his second child.
She complains about the failure by the Italian government to take any initiative to support Britel's inclusion in the amnesty, which would have accompanied an appeal and visit to Morocco by a delegation of Italian MPs and MEPs on behalf of Britel and may have been expected after the call issued in report by the TDIP commission, arguing that even an informal step by a high ranking authority could have made an important difference, in reference to the case of an English citizen, Abdellatif Merroun, who was pardoned after the appointment of an international expert for his defence by the British government.
Efforts by lawyer Francesca Longhi to visit Britel in prison in Casablanca on 11 April 2007 were stifled by a series of mishaps that rendered her trip to Morocco fruitless, leading her to complain about the Italian consulate's conduct. When she asked the consulate about the proceedings required for her to visit Britel a month before her scheduled trip, she was told that the prison director merely had to informed of the visit, without any need for a formal authorisation.
After repeated enquiries, Longhi was assured that everything
was in order, but when she arrived, she found that a rejection
had been received from the prison director, on the basis of Britel's
insistence that she visit him officially as his lawyer and not
as a relative (Britel's wife's cousin), the procedure that the
consulate had preferred to avoid the risk of his lawyer's request
being rejected (the consulate noted that this had happened in
Longhi was informed that the bureaucratic procedure for an official visit, which was explained in detail to her, would have taken three weeks, leading her to ask why she had not been told this when she first enquired, as she would have had no problem complying with the requirements and had contacted the consulate in time to do so? And why the prison authorities were only informed that she was his lawyer long after he had expressed his disagreement with the modality that had been decided for the visit?
In response to Longhi's criticism, the Italian consul Stefano Pisotto expressed his "regret" and explained that Britel first expressed his opposition to the envisaged form that the visit would take to a consular official on 27 March, resulting in a meeting with prison authorities notifying them of the imminent visit of Britel's lawyer during which assurances were given that there would be no problem. Denying any "omission" by the consulate and describing the circumstances of the case as "unprecedented", Pisotti also noted that the consulate only found out about the delay in obtaining authorisation for the visit very late, a day before it was scheduled, and is not responsible for explaining the "late and unexpected change of direction by the Moroccan authorities".
TDIP commission report on the alleged use of European countries by the CIA for the transportation and illegal detention of prisoners, 26.1.2007; Letter from Khadija Anna Lucia Pighizzini to Massimo D'Alema, Bergamo, 17.1.2007; E-mail communications by Francesca Longhi and the Italian consul in Rabat, Stefano Pisotti, April 2007.
Previous Statewatch coverage
Appeal for Britel pardon: http://www.statewatch.org/news/2007/jan/10britel.htm
Britel's account of his plight: http://www.statewatch.org/news/2007/jan/letteraKassim.pdf (in Italian), or http://www.statewatch.org/news/2007/jan/letter-Britel.pdf (in English)
In-depth background on the Britel case: http://www.statewatch.org/news/2006/nov/01italy-abu-omar-britel.htm
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