By Safaa Kasraoui and Ahlam Ben Saga
Rabat- Protesters, from the youngest to the oldest, chanted anti-government slogans in front of Morocco’s parliament on Wednesday evening to condemn the heavy sentences given to Hirak Rif activists on Tuesday night.
Demonstrators held banners or chanted slogans saying “We are all Zefzafi” and “The people want freedom for the activists,” “Freedom, dignity, justice for society,” “Long live the Rif,” “This country is corrupt,” and “Mourning.”
The court sentenced four activists to 20 years in prison for participating in “unauthorized protests,” and for “undermining the internal security of the country.”
Moroccans and non-Moroccans alike joined together in front of Parliament, next to which security forces stood to ensure the safety of civilians during the peaceful protest.
An Iraqi citizen who participated in the protest told Morocco World News that although he felt that he did not have the right to comment on this internal issue, he believed that the sentences were a “step backward” for the country’s social progress.
He added: “These sentences will not enable the government to mitigate the situation.”
The protester said that the government should review the sentences as soon as possible to avoid further escalation.
Some protesters carried Amazigh (Berber) flags in the demonstration.
Two women attending the protests voiced their opinion that the convictions against Hirak Rif activists are “unjust” and “unjustified.”
The sentences are “unjust and unfair for the youth who took to the streets in peaceful demonstrations for social demands,” human rights activist Jabri Abdelilah told MWN.
Emotions evident on her face, a young protester told MWN that the sentences were an “unfair” move.
Rabat’s demonstration was not the first in the kingdom on Wednesday. In the morning of the same day many university students in the capital of the Rif region, Nador, went on a march to decry the sentences.
The students have also decided to boycott university exams in reaction to the court’s decision.
Citizens also took to the streets of Boulevard El Oumame Al Moutahida in Casablanca.
Along with the Hirak’s leaders Zefzafi and Ahemjik, activists Ouassim El Boustati and Samir Ghid were also sentenced to 20 years in prison after being held awaiting trial and verdict for over a year.
Zakaria Adehchour, Mohamed Haki, and Mohamed Bouhenouch received 15 years in prison, whereas Mohamed Jelloul, Karim Amghar, Salah Lackham, Omar Bouharass, Bilal Ahaddad, Jamal Bouhaddou, and Achraf Yakhloufi were sentenced to 10 years. Others were sentenced to 1-5 years.
The Hirak protests began in October 2016 after the death of Mouhcine Fikri, a local fishmonger who was crushed to death in a garbage truck as he was trying to save his goods that was confiscated by authorities in Al Hoceima. The incident caused citizens across the country, especially in the Al Hoceima province, to protest nationwide to condemn Fikri’s death and social disparities in Morocco.
The protests were confronted by a heavy security response as law enforcement arrested more than 400 Hirak activists, most of whom received heavy sentences, ranging from 20 to 1 year.
Protesters await the reaction of the government to their demands: freedom for all the detained activists and what they have described in the protests as “equal social justice.”
The sentences have also been condemned by politicians, celebrities, and journalists. Former Minister of Urbing Planning and Housing Mohamed Nabil Benabdallah, who was sacked for “dysfunctions” in the project called “Al Hoceima Manarat Al Mutawasit,” also condemned the decision of Casablanca’s court.
The project was launched by King Mohammed VI to develop the Al Hoceima province in 2015. After problems in the implementation of the projects, the King sacked several authorities, including Former Minister of Health, Houcine El Ouardi, and Mohamed Hassad, former Minister of Education, who also served as former Minister of Interior in the government led by Abdelilah Benkirane.