Published: 00:00, 06 October 2014
An MP has joined a growing campaign to free a Kent man who has been convicted of being gay in Morocco.
Charlie Elphicke, who represents Dover and Deal, is urging tourists to boycott the North African country, claiming it is "unsafe" for Brits.
He posted on Twitter: "Deeply concerned for my constituent Ray Cole who has been jailed in Morocco and doing all I can to get him back to UK."
He told KentOnline: "It seems a very medieval process to prosecute someone and convict them for being gay.
"I'm particularly concerned because Mr Cole is 70 years old, has suffered from ill health including heart conditions and strokes, and we really need to get him back to the UK as soon as possible.
"Anyone thinking of going to Morocco needs to seriously consider the nature of their laws and be very cautious when travelling. I do not think Morocco is a safe travel destination for tourists."
Mr Elphicke joined scores of campaigners to take to social media to draw attention to Mr Cole's plight.
Using the #freeraycole hashtag, they are pleading for help from the likes of Stephen Fry, Clare Balding, Simon Pegg and Lord Alan Sugar to highlight the treatment of the 70-year-old.
English comedian Jason Manford has responded to their pleas, calling on David Cameron to sort the situation.
He tweeted: “Sort it Morocco! Either you want to be a tourist destination or you don’t. Can’t have it both ways #freeraycole You sorting this @David_Cameron.”
Mr Cole, who used to work for the KM Group, was on holiday in Marrakesh visiting a Moroccan man when the pair were approached by police at a bus stop and arrested on suspicion of being homosexual - a crime that carries a maximum sentence of three years.
They were both sentenced to four months in prison on Thursday.
Supporters have now launched a fundraising drive to cover the costs involved in the legal process. Donations can be made via this link.
Mr Cole's family say they feared he was missing after the authorities failed to contact them when he was arrested on September 18. He managed to get in touch a week later.
His son Adrian said: "The trial was a complete farce.
"They've gone through his phone and found photographs that they're using as evidence for a homosexual act."
"It's really rough, he's in with paedophiles and murderers and people who have committed shocking crimes.
"The consulate tried to visit him but were initially turned way, and told he had refused to see them.
"But when we spoke to him, he didn't know anything about it.
"He's had a couple of minor strokes before and has a minor heart condition. He has also been suffering with depression, which the court didn’t take into account.
"Why they haven’t just deported him no one seems to be able to be able to explain.
"We have been working with the Foreign and Commonwealth office, but of course they cannot change the law."
The family say they are planning to appeal against Mr Cole's conviction. They have also set up a petition which has received more than 1,000 signatures and a crowd funding page to help fund his legal costs.
Mr Cole’s distraught daughter, Gemma Scott, 37, has added her voice to the appeal.
The mum-of-one from Brambles Close, Minster, said: “I want my dad to be released.
“He wasn’t disrespecting Moroccan culture, he was just enjoying a holiday.
“If everyone keeps supporting us like they are, fingers crossed, he’ll be home soon where he belongs.”
Mrs Scott, who works for Royal British Legion in Chatham, said her father shares a cell with 66 other prisoners.
“He wasn’t disrespecting Moroccan culture, he was just enjoying a holiday" - Gemma Scott
She said authorities had confiscated his phone and personal possessions, but he appeared in good spirits when she visited him last week along with her brother and mother.
“There’s no segregation, he’s in there with paedophiles and rapists,” she said.
“He’s sleeping on a concrete floor, which isn’t good bearing in mind he’s 70 on October 25.
“He’s doing really well, we’re really proud of him; he’s showing strength we didn’t know he
“He’ll get through it, but it’s wrong.”
Mrs Scott said the family are planning to appeal to the British consulate against Mr Cole’s conviction.
To sign the petition to free Ray Cole and allow him to return to the UK, click here.
To donate towards his legals costs, click here.
A spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office told KentOnline: "We can confirm the detention of a British national in Morocco. We are providing consular assistance."
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