Years of Lead & Tazmamārt Prison

Hello blog post readers! I am back with my third blog post, this one about what is known as the ‘Years of Lead’ in Morocco. This time period is so rich and interesting in the history of Morocco. So the Years of Lead refer to the 1960s to the 1980s, marked specifically by the rule of King Hassan II of Morocco. Some scholars believe that the Years of Lead began with Moroccan independence in 1956, while Morocco was still under the rule of King Mohammed the V, who I have spoken about at length in my previous blog posts. Either way, Hassan II was King of Morocco from 1961 until his death in 1999. This time period was also marked by a stark oppression of critics of the government. As we see throughout history, when there is a highly oppressive government regime, we often see a rise of citizens fighting for their rights- in this case for democracy and human rights. It is even more interesting, because he was seen as a moderate leader by the West! He was an ally of the West until his death in 1999 where the atrocities he committed were fully uncovered. While the West were aware of some of the atrocities that were happening under his regime, many human rights violations were kept hidden from the public.

Under King Hassan II, Morocco saw a ton of human rights violations. Political opposition to Hassan the II was immediately shut down. The political opponents were reported by the Moroccan government to have “disappeared.” Disappearing truly meant either executing the opposition or sending them to prison. A secret prison that existed in Tasmamārt, Morocco is where both the political opposition and their families were sent. Now infamous for the hideous human rights violations that occurred, those who willingly or unwillingly participated in the failed coups in 1971-2 against Hassan the II were thrown into this prison for up to 18 years. The prison was built in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco in 1972 after the second failed coup. The prison was closed in 1991 after significant strain from outside leaders and international human rights organizations. These cells were just large enough for the prisoners to enter it. Described as dungeons, the prisoners were never allowed to leave. They weren’t clothed. The guard dogs and prisoners were fed the exact same food, more often the prisoners were fed the dogs’ leftovers. The conditions there, of isolation and darkness caused some detainees to commit suicide before they were released. The prison was underground in the mountains, where holes were poked in the structures to let some light and air in- there was no protection from the summer heat or winter conditions, which caused many detainees to fall ill.

Moukhlis, Salah. 2008. “The Forgotten Face of Postcoloniality: Moroccan Prison Narratives, Human Rights, and the Politics of Resistance.” Journal Of Arabic Literature 39, no. 3: 347-376. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed March 28, 2018).


The conditions in this prison were obviously disgusting and absolutely horrifying. Morocco has been paying compensation to the families affected by the prison since 1991. Malika Oukfir, is a Moroccan Berber writer, and was one of the disappeared. Her father was a leader of the second failed coup against Hassan II in 1972. Her father was executed, and she and her family were sent to multiple desert prisons. Even after the prison closed, her family’s house was destroyed, they had no rights- they could not work, and they did not have money. Her sister escaped to Spain then to Paris in 1996, where she helped Malika escape where she could start a new life. She had been imprisoned for 25 years, the larger part of her life, as this ordeal started when she was 19. Malika Oukfir has published two books about her experience: Stolen Lives: 20 Years in a Desert Jail (1999) and Freedom: The Story of My Second Life (2006). My personal favorite part about her stories is that she tells readers to not look at Morocco as just this story. She told The Washington Post 2001, “Although a victim, I do not want to look at Morocco through my story, but I want my experience to count,” she said. “That is why I bear witness. I hope my opinions will not be perceived as an intention to denounce but to look reality in the face and to recognize the errors of the past.”


File:Malika oufkir 2006.jpg

Larry D. Moore

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