Rabat – Isaac Charia, a member of the detained Rif activists’ defense team, has strongly criticized the heavy charges against protests detainees, calling on the government to “act with rationality.
The charges leveled against dozens of activists detained in Al Hoceima and Casablanca included “advocating for separatism,” “holding armed protests,” “receiving foreign money,” and “undermining state security.”
“We believe that the list of charges pressed by the public prosecutor, as a representative of the government, proves that the latter has adopted a hard-line vis-à-vis the issue,” Charia told MWN.
The lawyer explained that the defense is still waiting to receive the relevant police records. However, he expressed his concerns over the heavy charges, saying they are “a bad omen.”
While the government has reiterated that social development projects are underway, the arrests and heavy charges against the detainees are likely to increase tension between the population in Rif and the government.
Previous promises made by the government were met with mistrust by protesters, said the lawyer.
“The government has caused this crisis by referring to the protests movement and population of Al Hoceima as ‘traitors,’ ” explained Charia. “Now, every government initiative is being rejected by protesters.”
Charia warned against what he called the hard-line approach adopted by the government, deploring continuing arrests of activists.
“The state should act with rationality. Opting for escalation is not going to work,” he stated.
For months protests have been taking place in Al Hoceima and surrounding areas in Rif region calling for social and economic improvements.
Protests started as a reaction to the death of Mouhcine Fikri, the local fish vendor who died in October 2016, crushed by a compactor while attempting to retrieve his confiscated merchandise from a garbage truck.
Fikri’s death awakened latent tensions between the central government and the region, which suffered from decades of marginalization under the reign of King Hassan II.
Since October, protesters have been calling for hospitals and higher education institutions to be built, as well as employment projects in a region known for its high cancer and unemployment rates.
In October 2015 the King Mohammed VI, who had sought reconciliation with the region since ascended to the throne in 1999, launched Al Hoceima Manarat Al Moutawasit, a mega-development project due to be completed by 2019.
A ministerial delegation visited Al Hoceima in May in attempt to open dialogue with protesters and supervise the ongoing development projects.
However, mistrust led the core of the protests movement to boycott meetings held by the delegation. Demonstrations continued and clashes erupted between protesters and security forces despite calls from leading activists for protests to remain peaceful.
The situation in the region has grown tense following the arrests of dozens of activists, including the movement’s most prominent figure, Nasser Zefzafi.The detainee’s defense team currently consists of almost 70 self-appointed lawyers. Charia said requests to join are pouring from lawyers all over Morocco.
“We will do our outmost to defend the innocence of the detainees,” he affirmed.