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Amnesty report highlights grim reality of rights abuses across North Africa

Global rights group Amnesty International painted a grim picture of torture, slavery, political detentions and clampdowns on freedom of expression across North Africa, in a report published Tuesday.

In Tunisia, "hundreds of political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience, remained in prison" in 2005, the group said in its annual report.

"People continued to be at risk of imprisonment, harassment and intimidation because of their non-violent beliefs" there, it added.

In Libya, "many political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience, were believed to be held and several new arrests were reported." Amnesty cited the case of Libyan "prisoner of conscience" Fathi al-Jahmi, who remained in detention "after he criticized Libya's head of state and called for political reform in international media interviews." It also reported testimonies of torture and mistreatment by dozens of alleged victims held in custody in the disputed northwest territory of Western Sahara.

Prisoners said they were abused "either to force them to sign confessions to intimidate them from protesting further, or to punish them for their pro-independence stance" in the region annexed by neighboring Morocco in 1975.

Some of the abuses in Maghreb countries were committed amid stepped-up security measures aimed at fighting terrorism, the report said.

It alleged that human rights abuses were inflicted in Morocco "in the context of the war on terror"; with thousands of suspected Islamist activists arrested following deadly bomb attacks in Casablanca in 2003.

Dozens of people were also jailed "following unfair trials on terrorism-related charges" in Tunisia. And in Algeria, there were reports of torture particularly of people suspected of belonging to terrorist groups.

The report slammed widespread censorship and restrictions on freedom of expression.

Amnesty also complained of "impunity" for abusers, warning that wrongdoers are escaping justice in countries where steps are being taken to resolve internal conflicts.

Casablanca,05 31 2006
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