First Published: 2017-06-16

Rabat urged to free protesters in Rif region
Civil Initiative for the Rif calls for release of protesters, warns otherwise inhabitants of Al-Hoceima will continue to demonstrate.
Middle East Online

Al-Hoceima has been rocked by social unrest since the gruesome death in October of a fishmonger

RABAT - Human rights defenders issued a joint call Thursday for Morocco to release protesters in Al-Hoceima, a northern city shaken by seven months of demonstrations against the marginalisation of their region.

The statement comes a day after a court sentenced 25 demonstrators and suspected members of the grassroots protest movement to 18 months in jail each, according to their defence attorney.

The nightly clashes between protesters and security forces in the flashpoint city are turning more violent, a witness and a news website said Friday.

"Around 100 residents gathered on an avenue (on Thursday night) to demonstrate. Security forces intervened in strength," said one witness, contacted by telephone.

"They were hitting people. Youths dispersed into sideroads and started throwing stones, while the police used tear gas," the source said, adding that women were also attacked and several protesters hurt in running battles.

Le Desk, a news website, said: "The nightly confrontations... are turning into a riot... into pitched battles with police, with stones being thrown and tear gas fired."

The demonstrations have been taking place at night, after the breaking of the daytime fast observed during the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

On Thursday the Civil Initiative for the Rif, which includes Moroccan human rights organisations and intellectuals, issued a report after conducting a tour of the restive northern region.

It called for the release of the protesters so that a dialogue can be started, warning that "otherwise the inhabitants of Al-Hoceima will continue to demonstrate".

"Apart from this prerequisite, the government must take initiatives to satisfy social demands," they added.

The protests were "spontaneous", had nothing to do with politics or trade unions, and there was no separatist motive, the group said, referring to accusations from politicians and state media.

The 25 protesters sentenced to jail on Wednesday were among 32 people arrested more than two weeks ago after clashes erupted when police tried to detain the head of the movement, Nasser Zefzafi.

They were handed prison terms of 18 months each while the other seven were given suspended sentences and fined, said defence lawyer Mohamed Ziane.

"This verdict is a patent rejection of any kind of dialogue with the protesters," Ziane said at the time.

"This sad decision can fuel more protests, and is not the right one at all to find an end to this situation."

The Al-Hirak al-Shaabi, or "Popular Movement", has been holding protests for weeks in the neglected region, demanding jobs and an end to corruption.

Its leader, Zefzafi, was arrested on May 29 and is in custody in Casablanca awaiting trial, along with other leaders of the movement.

Al-Hoceima has been rocked by social unrest since the gruesome death in October of a fishmonger, who was crushed in a rubbish truck as he protested against the seizure and destruction of swordfish caught out of season.

Demands for justice snowballed into the wider grassroots movement.

Meanwhile authorities have banned a demonstration called for by activists and labour unions to mark the anniversary next Tuesday of the June 20, 1981 food riots that shook Casablanca.

Around 100 people were killed 36 years ago in a police crackdown on protesters in Casablanca who were demonstrating against an increase in the cost of food.

Authorities have banned the commemoration of the riots, fearing the event could lead to further "disturbances".

 

Rouhani seizes opportunity to get closer to Qatar

New crown prince widely welcomed in Saudi Arabia

Banned Bahraini newspaper fires staff

Iraq forces battle deep into devastated Old Mosul

Prime time for Ramadan on Gulf fashion calendar

Mali activists call for referendum to be abandoned

Iraqi forces control two thirds of Mosul Old City

Assad leads Eid prayers in Syria’s Hama

Lone-wolf attacks raise concern about new trend in terror

Erdogan slams Saudi demands of Qatar as illegal

Sudan making 'positive' steps on meeting US sanctions terms

Mecca suicide bombing injures six

Gulf crisis heats up as Qatar receives list of demands

Suicide attacks kill at least three people in Mosul

Civilians killed in Iraq suicide bomb attacks

UN warns Yemen cholera outbreak could infect 300,000 by September

Putin launches deep-water phase of TurkStream pipeline

Berlin warns Ankara against meddling in religious affairs

Asian states downplay 'Russia proposal' to send troops to Syria

Iran’s Salehi urges West to save historic nuclear deal

Iran, allies mark Jerusalem Day with rallies

US-led Syria strikes kill 472 civilians in one month

Morocco dismantles 'IS-linked cell plotting tourist attacks'

France sets out tough new anti-terror law

Russia warships, submarine strike IS targets in Syria

Trump-Saudi ties help pave way for new Saudi crown prince

Makeshift clinic saves lives near Syria’s Raqa

Egyptian fuel helps restart Gaza power station

Rights groups say Morocco protest leader 'severely beaten' during arrest

5 killed in Mogadishu car bomb attack

UN experts urge Egypt to halt executions after 'flawed trials'

Qatar emir congratulates newly-appointed Saudi crown prince

Kushner hails 'productive' Palestine-Israel talks

Macron says removing Assad no longer priority in Syria

Turkey sends first aid ship to isolated ally Qatar

Iraq PM says IS admitting defeat in Mosul

Egypt delivers fuel to ease Gaza electricity shortage

Saudi Arabia named after ruling dynasty

Turkey detains catering boss after army food poisoning

Israel says will unleash 'unimaginable power' in future Lebanon war

Brussels nail bomber identified as Moroccan

Saudi stock market bullish on new heir

Lebanon's Salame to be new UN Libya envoy

New Saudi heir is king's agent of change

Turkish President accused of influencing courts