RABAT Morocco has filed a lawsuit in France against activists who are suing the head of its domestic intelligence service over torture allegations, the Interior Ministry said, the latest move in a case that has divided Rabat and its former colonial ruler.
The row between Morocco and France erupted in February when French police tried to question the head of Rabat's intelligence service during a visit to Paris over accusations that his agency was involved in torture.
The dispute has prompted the North African kingdom to suspend judicial cooperation with France and to summon the French ambassador for consultations.
Moroccan activists in France had filed a lawsuit accusing the intelligence service, known by its French acronym DST, of torturing them while in detention in Morocco.
The Interior Ministry said a counter-lawsuit had been filed against those who were trying to sue Moroccan officials over "inaccurate torture allegations". Moroccan officials say those who filed the lawsuit had been jailed for other offences.
"The interior minister denounces gross manipulation by individuals who have been convicted for fraud and international drug trafficking," the ministry said in a statement.
The Moroccan government filed its lawsuit on Tuesday in a Paris court. The suit is also against ACAT, an association representing the activists.
"I expect a severe sentence," Ralph Boussier, Morocco's lawyer, said. "These three ex-convicts and this association are peddling defamatory remarks."
Helene Legeay, in charge of Morocco for ACAT, said her organisation was not worried by the complaint. "It really is a way of silencing the victims," she said.
French officials have tried to play down the rift saying they believed it would end quickly, but with Morocco also upset over comments allegedly made by a French ambassador, ties have yet to be restored.
Lawyers and officials have said the suspension of judicial cooperation covers penal matters such as joint investigations, prisoner transfers and extraditions. Also blocked are civil procedures for dual French-Moroccan nationals, who number almost 700,000, such as marriages, child custody issues and divorces
Since February, France has sent two ministers and senior diplomats to Rabat to try to resolve differences. The justice minister is due in Morocco in April.
A French diplomatic source said all cooperation had been suspended and the two countries were in a "negotiating phase" declining to say what those talks specifically centred on.
"There is a difference in cultures and it will take time," said another diplomat.
French President Francois Hollande spoke to the Moroccan king last month to try to calm the row between Paris and Rabat, an ally which has faced criticism from rights groups over police abuses, press freedom and judicial independence.
(Additional reporting by Chine Labbé in Paris; Writing by John Irish; Editing by Patrick Markey and Janet Lawrence)