Thursday, February 21, 2013

Shipping Community Shocked as Port Union Leader Jailed Following Ferry Controversy

Court Decision Which Follows Company Closure Protest is 'Unjust and Idiotic'
Shipping News Feature

MOROCCO – Stakeholders throughout and beyond the shipping community today expressed shock at the totally unexpected decision by a court in Morocco to jail trade union leaders Said Elhairech and Mohamed Chamchati after they were accused of relatively minor charges. Elhairech was sentenced to a year’s imprisonment for ‘obstructing freedom of action’ and Chamchati to two and a half years for associated charges. The two men had interceded at the behest of the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) when the Comarit-Comanov ferry company ceased trading.

Elhairech the general secretary of the Moroccan Ports Union, part of the ITF-affiliated UMT, and chair of the ITF Arab World regional committee, was arrested in June 2012 on charges of ‘sabotage and endangering national security’. He utterly rejected the accusations and was supported throughout by the ITF, which was unequivocal in its stance that he had been wrongly targeted following his very effective work on behalf of crews stranded by the cessation of operations of the Comarit-Comanav ferry company. In October all charges except one minor one were dropped and his innocence proven and the case seemed resolved, as we reported at the time.

Mohamed Chamchati, the general secretary of the Moroccan merchant seafarers’ union, was also arrested in June 2012 on what the union describe as clearly mistaken charges again linked to the cessation of operations of the ferry company. In November he and others were released without charge. The ITF has issued a statement condemning the Court's latest decision in the stongest possible terms saying the judgements are ‘utterly unbelievable’ and ITF president Paddy Crumlin commented:

“These sentences defy belief. Last year Said and Mohamed faced serious, cooked-up charges of sabotage and endangering national security. Following worldwide protests led by the ITF those ridiculous charges were rightly dropped. Now, in a shocking breach of trust and logic they have once again come under legal attack for their legitimate trade union work in defence of workers rights. These men are guilty of nothing more than being effective trade unionists. We will fight these unjust and idiotic decisions all the way.”

Condemnation of the decisions goes beyond the trades union movement and a spokesman for one of the leading shipping companies expressed surprise and dismay when the Court’s verdict was announced saying the men were being made scapegoats after the authorities had been embarrassed by very public demonstrations.

Moroccan justice is currently very much in the spotlight, just this week Amnesty International condemned another Rabat trial saying it was flawed from the outset and that torture claims needed investigation when a military trial led to eight life sentences following the authorities dismantling of a Sahrawi camp housing thousands which led to rioting.