Moroccoʹs treatment of Hirak El-Shaabi

Fair trial? Fat chance

More than a year after protests emerged in the northern city of Hoceima, Moroccan authorities continue to crackdown on support for Hirak, the popular movement that began when fish vendor Mouhcine Fikri was crushed to death in a garbage truck trying to retrieve his confiscated merchandise. By Matthew Greene

On 8 February, a court handed a prison sentence of 20 months to human rights lawyer Abdessadek El Bouchtaoui after convicting the attorney on charges of "insulting public officials" and "contributing to the organisation of an unauthorised and prohibited demonstration".

El Bouchtaoui is among the lawyers representing Hirak activists and demonstrators, including the family of Emad El Attabi, who died following clashes between protesters and police in July 2017 that resulted in over 80 people being injured. The lawyer was charged after posting reports of human rights violations and criticisms against state security forces to Facebook last July, in which he also stated his plans to attend a local protest.

Then on 15 February, activist Nawal Benaissa, a leading voice of Hirak, was sentenced to 10 months in prison on the same charge of inciting protests. Benaissa responded to the courtʹs decision on her Facebook page by expressing her continued support for the Rif protests. "I am proud to take part in the protests in the region and I denounce the imprisonment of Hirak activists. I demand their immediate release," she wrote.

Protesters shout slogans during a demonstration in the northern town of Al-Hoceima against official abuses and corruption; sign reads "We are all Zefzafi", 30.05.2017 (photo: Reuters/Youssef Boudlal)
Accused of a plethora of crimes: fifty-four members of Hirak El-Shaabi, including its figurehead Nasser Zefzafi, are standing trial on charges including unauthorised protest, rebellion, "plotting to undermine internal state security", undermining "citizensʹ loyalty to the Moroccan state institutions", "incitement against the kingdomʹs territorial unity" and "insulting" public officials and institutions

Moroccan security forces have arrested hundreds of protesters since May 2017 for their participation in the largely peaceful demonstrations. At least 410 people are currently in detention and many have been sentenced to up to 20 years in prison, including several minors. Some are believed to have been arrested for expressing support for Hirak on social media websites such as Facebook.

Trial of Zefzafi continues

Among the detained is Hirak figurehead Nasser Zefzafi, who is facing his tenth consecutive month of solitary confinement in a Casablanca prison following his arrest last May, when the activist interrupted a Friday sermon describing Hirak as a fitna, or dissension.

Zefzafi is standing trial along with 53 other members of the movement on charges including unauthorised protest, rebellion, "plotting to undermine internal state security", undermining "citizensʹ loyalty to the Moroccan state institutions", "incitement against the kingdomʹs territorial unity" and "insulting" public officials and institutions.

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