Washington DC - The tensions in the Rif are merely symptoms of much larger problems, ones that the Moroccan government has been slow in addressing. Chiefs among these issues are social injustice and impunity. Therefore, it is hard to justify the jailing of peaceful protesters when government officials accused of corruption and mismanagement of Royal projected are rarely arrested and imprisoned for their crimes.
Washington DC – The tensions in the Rif are merely symptoms of much larger problems, ones that the Moroccan government has been slow in addressing. Chiefs among these issues are social injustice and impunity. Therefore, it is hard to justify the jailing of peaceful protesters when government officials accused of corruption and mismanagement of Royal projected are rarely arrested and imprisoned for their crimes.
While Morocco has every right to enforce its laws and punish violators, the ill treatment of non-violent protesters and lengthy confinements of activists weaken national unity and damage the standing of internal institutions.
This is especially concerning when the charges against some of the people arrested during the last 3 months of protests in the northern region of the Rif are vague and in some cases undetermined. Even though it is undeniable that some of the defendants committed offences, a criminal blanket approach putting all offenders in the same basket will hurt the states’ case on the international arena.
Furthermore, if tensions continue to rise in Al-Hoceima and international pressures amplify, foreign non-government organization would “force” the Moroccan authorities to relent and free protesters who actually committed crimes. Thus, it is important for Rabat to revisit its “security” centered approach to the protests and free, without outside pressures, some of the defendants.
According to official figures, Moroccan security forces arrested more than 60 people since the beginning of the hirak in the Rif region. Most of them were charged with relatively “minor” offenses related to insulting police officers, stone-throwing, and unlawful gathering. Thus, it is unwise to paint all protesters with the same brush.
While, some of the offenders could face additional charges related to national security, the majority of them will not. Consequently, it is counterproductive to keep a large number of non-violent defenders in pre-trial detention.
The Moroccan public expects swift and resolute actions against protesters who advocate for independence or violence but the jailing for peaceful protesters who may have used “language” that is widely exercised on social media further undermines the Kingdom’s judiciary and keep the story alive in the international media.
The continuous confinement of all protesters would sustain damaging stories on Morocco. Furthermore, reports of torture and abuse mars Morocco’s standing as a modern state and hurts the local and national economies.
Officials in charge of resolving the Rif crisis need to respect Moroccan law stating that police cannot detain defendants more than 12 days without charge even in national security cases. The disregard of the welfare of Riffian defendants is creating a deeper rift in society and creating an impression of “us” against “them”.
As additional international news outlets cover the protests and other well-known NGOs take up the defense of the rights of jailed activists, Morocco will look vulnerable and culpable. Now is the right time to release some of the defendants and provide legal access to all arrested persons.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent any institution or entity.
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