Morocco: The 350 detainees must be released!

Trial against leaders of protest movement in Morocco - An appeal to Morocco’s King (Press Release)

The Society for Threatened Peoples has sent an appeal to Morocco's King Mohammed VI, asking him to set 350 detained Hirak protesters free. Photo: Ky Chung via UN Photos

The Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) has sent an appeal to Morocco's King Mohammed VI, asking him to set 350 detained Hirak protesters free. “Their only offense was to make use of their right to freedom of expression, as an attempt to draw attention to the neglect of their impoverished region in the Rif Mountains. But their leader, Nasser Zefzafi, might even be facing the death penalty if he is indicted in Casablanca today, as he is accused of endangering state security,” said Ulrich Delius, the STP’s director, in Göttingen on Tuesday. Since the summer of 2017, a total number of 73 Hirak supporters have been sentenced to prison terms between one and three years. Most of the detainees are Masirs (Berbers).

In addition to Hirak-spokesman Zefzafi, there are 50 other suspected supporters of the protest movement on trial in Casablanca today. The criminal court refused to have them released on bail. They are accused of sabotage, looting, attempted murder, and of taking part in unauthorized demonstrations. The Moroccan authorities claim that 589 police officers were injured in the protests in the north of the country. The demonstrators, however, are accusing the authorities of systematically criminalizing their mostly peaceful actions. The protests in the Rif had been triggered by the violent death of fishmonger Mohcine Fikri in the city of Al Hoceima on October 29, 2016. In an attempt to rescue his goods, which the police had thrown into a garbage truck, he had been crushed by the trash compactor.

The STP criticizes the ongoing violations of the right to demonstrate and the freedom of the press in the region of Al Hoceima. In late October 2017, the authorities had banned memorial services and demonstrations on occasion of the first anniversary of Mohcine Fikri’s death. On October 16, 2017, the police had stopped a group of Tunisian lawyers and human rights activists about 40 kilometers from Al Hoceima, keeping them from continuing their journey. In the city, there had already been intensified security measures to prevent public protests.

Critical journalists who dare to report about the mass protests in the Rif are systematically intimidated and threatened. Several journalists are even facing imprisonment for providing critical information about the background to the protests. The information portal badil.com was closed down October 2017 after journalist Hamid El Mahdaoui, who worked for the platform, was sentenced to one year in prison for his publications on Hirak – and the authorities are also intimidating lawyers who dare to represent the demonstrators.