Crime & Justice

Provisional release requested for 33 migrants on trial for Melilla tragedy

Nador, Morocco, Jul 4 (EFE).- Defense lawyers representing 33 sub-Saharan migrants who were arrested during a mass attempt to breach the border in the Spanish North African enclave of Melilla in which at least 23 people died have requested that the defendants, who have refugee status, be provisionally released pending trial.

During the second session of the trial against them at the Court of First Instance of Nador, which lasted about 20 minutes as it was postponed to give lawyers more time to prepare the defense, the defendants – most of whom are Sudanese – appeared by videoconference to confirm their names.

They face the least serious penalties of the 61 sub-Saharans who have been indicted by the Moroccan prosecution – they are charged with crimes of “organizing and facilitating the clandestine entry and exit of people to and from Morocco”, as well as insult and use of violence against public forces, “armed agglomeration” and damage to public property.

“We request that the Prosecutor’s Office judge these persons on provisional release, the guarantee is their refugee status”, Mbarek Buyereg, one of their lawyers, asked of the judge, to which the public prosecutor’s office is expected to respond on Monday.

Since the defense requested more time to study the files of the defendants and prepare how each would plead, the court decided to postpone the trial to July 12, one day before the start of the trial against another group of migrants who are accused of more serious crimes.

The defense was composed of volunteer lawyers from the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH) and the NGO GADEM, which specializes in helping migrants.

In addition to observers from these two Moroccan associations, the session was also attended by representatives of the National Council for Human Rights (CNDH).

The CNDH also has an exploratory delegation in the province of Nador to study whether Moroccan authorities respected human rights when they acted on June 24 to prevent hundreds of sub-Saharan migrants from entering Melilla. At least 23 migrants died in the chaos, although humanitarian organizations estimate the death toll to be higher.

During that police operation Moroccan authorities arrested more than 1,500 migrants. Of those, 61 are being prosecuted for various crimes, while the rest were released in cities in central and southern Morocco.

In addition to the 33 who appeared before the Court of First Instance on Monday, there are 28 other detainees who will be tried starting July 13 at the Court of Appeal in Nador.

They face more serious charges than those who appeared on Monday, including allegations of “regularly” organizing the clandestine entry and exit of people, an offence which is considered human trafficking.

They are also charged with kidnapping and holding agents of the public forces to use them as hostages, causing a fire in the forest where the migrants were living, and insult and violence against Moroccan security agents.

The tragedy occurred when between 1,500 and 2,000 sub-Saharan people headed en masse with sticks and stones towards the Melilla fence in an attempt to cross it, where the Moroccan police met them with tear gas, truncheons and stones.

It was the deadliest crossing attempt ever recorded at the border of the Spanish city. EFE


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