MISTAKEN PARDON

“We live worse than dogs”

Some of the Spanish prisoners who were not pardoned ask why pedophile was put on the royal list in the first place

After last month's royal pardon of 48 Spanish prisoners, 125 Spaniards remain in Moroccan jails, the majority of them on drug-trafficking charges.

Speaking from his cell in Tétouan's jail, Sergio, a 35-year-old fisherman serving the second year of a six-year sentence for trying to smuggle a ton of hashish out of the country, has begun a hunger strike along with nine other Spaniards to protest at what he sees as the arbitrary and unfair nature of the royal pardon that included pedophile Daniel Galván Viña.

"How is it possible that somebody who raped children has been pardoned, or the truck driver found with nine tons of hashish and had only been in jail for 15 months?" he asks.

In fact, neither Galván Viña, nor Antonio García Ancio, the truck driver sentenced to 10 years for hashish smuggling, were among the 18 prisoners Spain had asked to be pardoned and freed; instead they were on a list of 30 prisoners it had requested to be transferred to Spanish jails. But the Moroccan authorities apparently put the two lists together and pardoned all 48.

The Spanish government has not said why it sought pardons and transfers for the prisoners, though such requests are often for humanitarian reasons. The requests for pardons and prison transfers came during Spanish King Juan Carlos's four-day official visit to Morocco last month, and Morocco's consent was viewed as a gesture that would benefit bilateral relations.

You get around 20 people sleeping on the floor, men who have raped, are crazy, who have murdered"

The bureaucratic misunderstanding has embarrassed both nations, prompting rare protests in Morocco and an ultimately successful scramble to find the freed child rapist. As well as raising legal questions about the fate of the other 29 Spaniards believed incorrectly pardoned, it has angered some Spanish prisoners, who point out that men convicted of lesser crimes who have served more of their sentences than those released have been overlooked.

Moroccan prison conditions are harsh, says Sergio. "You get around 20 people sleeping on the floor, men who have raped, are crazy, who have murdered, some of them are serving sentences of up to 30 years. They know they are never leaving, so they don't care: they will kill you and nothing is going to happen," says Fidel, who was among the lucky few pardoned by King Mohammed VI.

Spaniards who have served time in Moroccan jails say they spent their time in fear of lives: "Some of them start fights with the prison guards, they are fighting with each other all the time. They see us as playthings," says Sergio.

"The more money you have, the better you live," says Antonio García Vidriel, another who was released in July. "The 100 euros the Spanish consulate pays each of us every month goes to the prison guards: for 10 euros a week you can get a bed." The rest, he says, is mainly spent on replacing the food and tobacco stolen by other prisoners. "There are no showers, just a tap in the corner of the cell, and the toilet is a hole in the floor filled with rats. We live worse than dogs," concludes Sergio, who says he is prepared to take his hunger strike "to the limit."

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