Morocco raises stakes in torture row with France

A diplomatic rumpus between France and Morocco deepened on Wednesday when the North African country broke off all judicial cooperation with Paris. It stems from a row over allegations of torture directed at Morocco's intelligence chief.

Morocco raises stakes in torture row with France
French president Fran├žois Hollande and the Moroccan King Mohammed VI have been trying to calm the recent diplomatic row. Photo: Abdeljalil Bounhar/AFP

Morocco announced Wednesday that it was suspending all judicial cooperation with France following a diplomatic row over lawsuits filed in Paris accusing the kingdom's intelligence chief of "complicity in torture."

"All agreements on judicial cooperation between the two countries have been suspended… to eliminate the distortions that have affected them," the justice ministry said in a statement.

It has also recalled the Moroccan judge responsible for liaising with France on the agreements.

Morocco has strong commercial and cultural ties with its former colonial ruler.

But the kingdom reacted furiously to the announcement last Thursday of two civil lawsuits filed by an NGO in Paris against Abdellatif Hammouchi, the head of its domestic intelligence agency, over his alleged role in the torture of a Sahrawi independence activist jailed for 30 years in 2013.

Moroccan officials have expressed outrage at the decision to send seven French policeman to the ambassador's residence to inform Hammouchi, who was in Paris accompanying the interior minister on a visit, of a summons issued by the investigating judge.

President Francois Hollande called Morocco's King Mohammed VI to reassure him of France's "constant friendship," and "dispel misunderstandings".

But the gesture failed to prevent thousands of protesters from demonstrating outside the French embassy on Tuesday.

The row was also enflamed by an off-the-cuff remark by Spanish movie star Javier Bardem, in which he let slip private comments by a French ambassador.

Bardem, who was promoting his new film about rights abuses in a former Spanish colony, the Western Sahara, which was annexed by Morocco in 1975. 

Alluding to the idea that Paris had ignored the human rights abuses in Morocco, mentioned a conversation he claimed to have had with France's United Nations ambassador in the US in 2011.

He claimed that the ambassador had described Morocco as, "A mistress with whom we sleep every night, even if we are not particularly in love, but whom we must defend. In other words, we turn a blind eye."

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Torture instrument sale suspended after protests

A planned sale of torture instruments in Paris which belonged to one of France's last executioners has been cancelled, for now at least.

Torture instrument sale suspended after protests

The macabre collection of over 350 items was built up by Fernand Meyssonnier, one of France’s last executioners.

He worked between 1947 and 1961 and executed more than 200 people. Meyssonnier, who died in 2008, was particularly known for the executions he carried out in Algeria. 

The collection, planned to take place on Tuesday, was put up for sale by his only daughter and was to be handled by the Cornette de Saint Cyr auction house.

On Tuesday morning the sale was still listed on the auction house’s website as “Penalties and Punishments of Yesteryear”.

Gruesome items up for sale included thumb screws, a hand-crusher and a guillotine. 

Other torture instruments included a “pear of anguish”, also known as a “choke pear” as the pear-shaped instrument was inserted into the victim’s mouth and then slowly expanded during questioning. 

An inquisition chair, featuring sharp points on the seat, was listed with a guide price of €600 to €800 ($800 to $1050).

A number of organisations including Amnesty International protested against the sale.

They were joined last week by culture minister Frédéric Mitterrand who said the sale was more about “morbidity and barbarity” than “culture” and asked for it to be cancelled.

The auction house said it had cancelled the sale amid a “vindictive” climate.

It said it would not rule out rescheduling the sale for a later date, depending on the wishes of Meyssonnier’s daughter.