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Mustapha Benhassioua, a Moroccan asylum seeker who ended up in prison for «hijacking»

After spending eight years in prison following the 1981 bread riots in Casablanca, Mustapha Benhassioua decided to immigrate to Switzerland and apply for political asylum. His plans, however, were foiled when he was jailed for hijacking.

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Mustapha Benhassioua, an asylum seeker who ended up in prison for «hijacking». / Ph. Youssef Dahmani- Yabiladi

On June 20, 1981, Moroccans took to the streets to protest against the skyrocketing prices in a general strike, initiated by trade unionists. The protests, held mainly in Casablanca, turned into riots and to control the situation, the army intervened in a «severe» way, opening fire on protesters and arresting others.  

Unfortunately, Mustapha Benhassioua was one of the arrestees, who received heavy sentences for participating to the Casablanca protests. Benhassioua, who was 17 years old at the time, was sentenced to eight years in prison.

While in prison, the Casablanca-native pursued his studies and in 1989, he left his prison cell to join the Hassan II University for a higher education degree. However, once back to a normal life, he found himself «targeted by the Moroccan intelligence services», he told Yabiladi. He, then decided to «live abroad» and file for political asylum in Italy or Switzerland.  

From an asylum seeker to a «hijacker»

Indeed, Benhassioua applied for political asylum in 1992. «I was transferred from a border post to a refugee center», he recalls. 48 hours later, and after finalizing his application form, he was deported to Morocco. «The Moroccan intelligence services intervened and I was, forcibly, sent back to Morocco aboard a plane linking Switzerland to the Kingdom, with the complicity of the Swiss authorities», he argued.

On his way to Morocco, one of the crewmembers asked why he was deported. When answering the question, the man found himself criticized by the man who did not appreciate the fact that he had applied for asylum. Once at the Mohammed V airport, Mustapha Benhassioua realized that something very serious was going on. He was immedialy arrested and charged with «hijacking».

In Morocco, the 53-year-old man was found guilty and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. He spent 16 years of them in prison, dedicating his time to studies.

In November 2007, Benhassioua’s long days in prison were over, after he was granted a royal pardon. He tried to contact bodies established to reconcile victims of human rights abuses in the Kingdom but in vain.

«To this day, I always ask the Equity and Reconciliation Commission to take into consideration my situation», he desperately told Yabiladi.

«I have made several requests to the relevant authorities, including the National Council for Human Rights and Equity and Reconciliation Commission and other bodies to review my two files. I have never been compensated for what happened to me», he regretted.

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