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Moroccan Islamist prisoners launch hunger strike

Written by: Staff
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RABAT, May 3 (Reuters) About 100 Moroccan Islamists, 14 of them on death row, went on hunger strike on Tuesday to demand a new probe they argue would clear them of involvement in deadly bomb attacks in Casablanca three years ago.

A leading human rights group yesterday urged the government to satisfy their demands and voiced concern over the fate of the fasting prisoners, after a fellow inmate died last year in a similar protest.

''We are a group of people who fell victim to injustice and we demand that injustice be lifted. For that end, we began an indefinite (hunger) strike,'' the fasting prisoners said in a statement sent to Reuters.

Abderrahim Mohtad, the head of Islamic prisoner advocacy group Annassir, told Reuters that 109 detainees had gone on hunger strike in the prisons of Kenitra, north of Rabat, and Ain Bourja outside Casablanca.

The prisoners were among about 3,000 people arrested by police following the suicide bombings on May 16, 2003 that left 45 dead.

About one third of those arrested were convicted and sentenced to between several months and life in prison. Fourteen were sentenced to death.

About 300 detainees are still in jails after others were released in batches at the end of prison terms or were pardoned by King Mohammed during religious feasts and other holidays.

The prisoners are widely known in Morocco as members of the radical Islamist Salafist Jahadist group.

But they insist they are innocent and accuse the authorities of falsifying evidence to convict them.

The government dismissed such arguments, saying the prisoners were convicted following fair trials and that their rights were fully respected.

The prisoners, backed by two local human rights groups, claimed repeatedly that their trials were unfair and called for a new investigation.

They threatened to fast until death if the authorities fail to meet their claims.

The country's leading independent human rights body, the Moroccan Human Rights Association, urged the government to open a dialogue with the prisoners and address their claims.

''(The AMDH Central bureau) expresses its worries that the hunger strike would have dreadful consequences for the rights to life and health of the prisoners,'' AMDH said in a statement.

REUTERS DKS RN0413

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