Rabat - As protests escalate outside the Court of Appeals, tension in the court room mounts as the hour approaches for the six judges to take their places on the bench.
Rabat – As protests escalate outside the Court of Appeals, tension in the court room mounts as the hour approaches for the six judges to take their places on the bench.
The lawyers don their robes and the conversation in the courtroom builds to a crecendo as the seats fill up. Stacks of dossiers line the prosecutor’s table piled up in colorful folders a foot high.
The international observers – lawyers from France, Belgium, Spain, Denmark, Germany, and USA — arrive with the rest of crowd, taking their chances at an empty seat, ready to exercise their powers of critical observation with respect to the process and procedures of the trial. The barristers from Europe don their black robes, traducteurs at the ready.
This international observer in the American tradition has no robe, so sits in the front row amidst the sea of black-robed defense lawyers with black coat and red scarf, attentive and pen at the ready.
Police security guards line the walls. The scales of justice present themselves engraved in relief on the front of the bench. The portrait of his majesty King Mohamed VI peers down over the proceedings, superseded only by a verse of the Quran.
Finally the lights come on and all rise for the honorable court as the judges enter. Loud chants erupt from the gallery as the detainees are led into the courtroom — two groups of protestors chant and shout at each other and at the court, alternating call and response in a cacophony of voices. Someone waives the Moroccan flag high overhead.
The Saharaoui dressed defendants shout back and the chanting rises in volume. The President of the Court calls for order, banging his fist on his mic sending loud percussive jolts through the amplified sound system, as people stand on their seats with raised arms and women ululate like a warrior call.
The President asks everyone to sit down and listen to the court. Recognizing the charged emotions of those in the courtroom, he says whether the people are family of the victims or family of the accused, everyone must respect the Court. “The Court will take into consideration your feelings,” he says. “The Court knows how to apply the law. If we have disorder, we cannot proceed.”
This is the picture of Morocco’s highest profile trial, the Gdim Izik incident.
The controversial case arose from the dismantling of the Gdim Izik camp in Laayoune in October and November 2010 when eleven law enforcement officers were killed and their dead bodies were desecrated by a mob. 70 other individuals were injured, mostly law enforcement officers and 4 civilians. Private and public property also were vandalized and destroyed. The Military Court of Rabat originally tried and convicted the 24 defendants, and on February 17, 2013, the court sentenced them to prison terms ranging from 20, 25, and 30 years to life. In July 2016, the Court of Cassation subsequently annulled the verdict and the convictions of the accused, and ordered that the case be referred to the Court of Appeals in Sale.
While much of the proceedings today were marred by disruption from the gallery and defense attorneys claiming with raised voices that they had not had an adequate opportunity to prepare their defense, the overwhelming impression of today’s chaotic hearing was that the President of the Court was trying to bend over backwards to ensure that all voices were heard and that the defendants receive a fair trial based upon due process. Transparency is at the heart of the proceedings. Indeed, the Court has seen to it by including real-time translation for non-Arabic speakers.
Unfortunately, due to the somewhat overinclusive leniency on the part of the President who did not eject anyone from the courtroom, no matter how long or loudly they shouted, little was or could be accomplished. Given the nature of the case and the very raw emotions and attempted politicization of the trial, it is understandable that at the outset of the proceeding the Court may wish to put an indelible imprimatur of fairness on the proceedings. Indeed, the removal of this case for a new trial in an ordinary (civilian) court rather than a military court, demonstrates Morocco’s commitment to the protection of human rights and civil rights and the preservation of due process to ensure a fair trial.
Yet, summum jus, summa injuria. Extreme justice is extreme injustice. This principle expressed in Latin captures the essence of the proceedings today. By providing in effect too much justice, the proceedings become injurious to justice. In other words, too much justice can lead to injustice. And when nothing is accomplished by virtue of not controlling the proceedings and allowing every point of view to be expressed and every piece of evidence to come in, justice is delayed if not denied.
Clearly much remains to be done in this case. With 24 defendants on trial, most of today was spent on trying to work out procedural issues including verifying the identities of each of the defendants. Although one defendant’s case was deferred until March 13, 2017 (he is currently in hospital and unavailable for a trial), the rest of the cases will go forward beginning at 10 am Tuesday.