November 24, 2009 / 3:16 PM / 9 years ago

Moroccan court keeps critic of drug policy in jail

RABAT (Reuters) - A human rights activist who criticised Morocco’s drugs policy lost an appeal on Tuesday against a jail sentence for offending the authorities and making illegal currency transactions, state media said.

Chakib El Khayari, head of a human rights association in the northern Rif region where growing cannabis is a lifeline for thousands of poor families, had criticised what he saw as the flaws in the government’s crack-down on the drugs trade.

A Casablanca appeal court upheld a June ruling to jail Khayari for three years and order him to pay 753,930 dirhams to Moroccan customs, official news agency MAP reported.

Before his arrest, Khayari made repeated statements to foreign media and at conferences in which he questioned the government’s record in suppressing the smuggling of illegal drugs from Morocco to Europe, according to rights groups.

Gangs earn fortunes from processing the drug and smuggling the resin across to Spain in powerful speedboats.

Prosecutors said Khayari had deposited money in foreign banks without the authorisation of Morocco’s Exchange Office and had taken a bribe to focus a media campaign against some traffickers and not others.

“Human Rights Watch believes El Khayari was imprisoned for his denunciation of abuse, and demands his liberation,” the New York-based rights group said in a statement ahead of the appeal verdict.

Morocco’s government has said the drug trade declined last year as police broke up trafficking gangs and encouraged farmers to shift to alternative crops.

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