Moroccan trade unionist Said Elhairech has been released from prison and all serious charges dropped against him, the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) said today. Only one minor charge against Elhairech remains. However, Mohamed Chamchati, general secretary of Morocco’s Merchant Seafarer’s Union, remains in detention.
Elhairech, general secretary of the dock workers’ branch of the Union Marocaine de Travail (UMT) and chair of the ITF’s Arab World Regional Committee, and Chamchati, were jailed in mid-June for defending the rights of ferry workers stranded in France and Spain after their company declared bankruptcy.
ITF general secretary David Cockroft said that for more than 100 days, “trade unionists around the world” have fought for the release of both men. “This is undoubtedly the right decision, if overdue, and it proves what we said all along, that the charges were ridiculous—and we have broadcast that fact to the world.”
In hailing Elhairech’s release, ITF president Paddy Crumlin urged that “the release of Mohamed must now also follow.”
Two Moroccan union leaders remain in jail and under “preventive detention,” arrested more than 10 weeks ago as they worked to defend the rights of ferry workers who were stranded in France and Spain when their company declared bankruptcy.
Said Elhairech, general secretary of the dock workers’ branch of the Union Marocaine de Travail (UMT) and chair of the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) Arab World Regional Committee, and Mohamed Chamchati, general secretary of Morocco’s Merchant Seafarer’s Union, were detained in mid-June. At the time, they had been working with the ITF to help secure the repatriation of workers abandoned aboard their impounded vessels.
A Moroccan court determined that the two union leaders should be held in “preventive detention” on suspicion of forming a criminal gang with intent to sabotage buildings, the port and ships, divulge professional secrets and undermine state security and the right to work. Their original trial date of July 2 has been postponed pending further investigation.
Morocco has a statute, Article 288 of the Penal Code, that empowers the state to arrest and imprison people attempting to organize a strike or for interfering with free commerce.
The UMT and the ITF maintain that “the men’s legitimate trade union activities lie behind the arrests.” The UMT reports that the ferry company and the operator of the port of Tangiers fired elected union leaders, ceased paying wages and behaved with duplicity in their negotiations with the union.
“The charges laid against these activists are quite simply ridiculous. We want our brothers to be freed,” said UMT General Secretary El Miloudi El Moukharek. “The only reason these men have been put in jail is to hurt the union. We call on our union brothers and sisters around the world for support.”
The ITF has launched a global solidarity campaign to help free the two men.