The head of Morocco's advisory Human Rights Council defended the behaviour of police who beat demonstrators in recent days, saying the marches were held without the proper permission.
Rabat – Riot police wielding clubs in the capital Rabat, the nation’s largest city Casablanca and elsewhere wounded several dozen protesters on Sunday, some of them severely, in a stronger response to anti-government protests than before.
Asked whether the harsh police response amounted to a rights violation, Mohammed Essabbar, appointed in March by the king to serve as secretary general of the official watchdog organisation to investigate abuses, told Reuters on Tuesday: Moroccan law lays down the legal conditions for demonstrations.”
Demonstrators must apply for permission, including the route, the time, other details,” he said. The demonstrators did not respect the provision of this law.”
Essabar’s council took over the functions of a previous government-appointed rights body but is supposed to show more independence by eliminating government ministers and other officials. The king still appoints some of the members.
King Mohammed VI holds ultimate religious and political power in Morocco, where protests have not gathered the wide public support seen in other North African nations such as Egypt and Tunisia. After a restrained approach to protests starting in February, Moroccan authorities have recently become more wary.
Now the behaviour of the government is different, it has changed,” said El Habib Belkouch, president of the Centre for Human Rights Studies and Democracy in Rabat. Perhaps it is because the movement is becoming more important politically.”
They have not said why earlier demonstrations were allowed and not this one,” he continued. There should be clear rules and the procedures should be followed.”
ABUSES HAPPEN EVERYWHERE
Essabbar, a former criminal defence attorney, defended the government’s rights record in Morocco, a country seen as relatively moderate in the Arab world.
There is no country in the world, including advanced countries, where there are no human rights abuses,” he said, citing U.S. treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and a French ban on face-covering burqas as examples. You have to put Morocco in the right context.”
We have a broad amount of freedom of expression, of freedom of press,” he said.The press can talk about the king, corruption, other topics.”
Essabbar declined to detail what the king had told him when he appointed him to the position.
Amnesty International has urged the government to conduct an independent investigation into Sunday’s violence.
In the coming weeks, a commission appointed by the king is expected to unveil a set of constitutional reforms to give people more democratic rights. A vote on the amendments is scheduled for July.
We are moving peacefully, calmly to parliamentary democracy,” Essabbar said