Being diagnosed with a mental illness is stigmatizing just about anywhere in the world (The United States only got around to forcing insurance companies to cover mental health treatment less than two decades ago.) but some places are worse than others. In Morocco, the belief that the mentally ill and drug addicted are possessed by evil spirits is a fairly common one. The Bouya Omar mausoleum is a particularly heinous last stop for families looking for spiritual cures for their loved ones’ psychiatric illnesses. The residents are chained, beaten, robbed and left to the mercy of a small group of religious acolytes who supposedly run the place.
…A thin mist hangs in the air as a handful of troubled souls wander aimlessly around the Bouya Omar mausoleum in central Morocco, the occasional chilling cry rising from behind its walls.These are Morocco’s “possessed” — from violent schizophrenics to hard drug users — who are believed to be tormented by evil spirits and whose relatives bring them here to await deliverance.
But many are left wondering exactly what goes on inside the sanctuary of the 16th-century Moroccan saint, situated in a small town named after him on the plains east of Marrakesh.
Bouya Omar’s followers claim the mentally ill are healed by the saint’s supernatural powers, but rights groups allege gross mistreatment of those taken there, with one former inmate describing months of “hell”.
Activists say hundreds of people have been kept in chains here, sometimes starved and beaten, making the place a byword for cruelty and highlighting the stigma attached to mental illness in Morocco.
Their numbers cannot be verified and officials are reluctant to speak about what they say is a “sensitive subject”.
Mohammed, a former drug addict from Tangiers, is adamant that he was subjected to brutal treatment seven years ago.