A Moroccan judge has sentenced nine people for their role in protests that swept across the north-eastern mining city of Jerada early this year.
By Josh Babb
Rabat – Several accidental deaths in defunct mines initially sparked the protests in Jerada last December, which extended until the spring of this year.
The nine sentences on Thursday were the first punishments to be formally handed down in the Jerada case by the Moroccan court system in the nearby city of Oujda. The court charged the nine with “destruction of public property, incitement to commit crimes and offenses or participation in a non-violent demonstration,” their lawyer said in a statement to AFP.
The court gave its ruling one day after another informal miner, 25, died in a mine collapse on Wednesday, November 7.
The judicial system held all nine in custody since mid-March following prolonged clashes between protesters and police.
The government closed Jerada’s coal mines in 1998. Due to a lack of economic opportunity, many workers in the town take risks to continue extracting resources from the mines. In two separate mine accidents, four informal miners died in December alone.
Demonstrations quickly swelled in size attracting as many as 20,000 people, all calling for the Moroccan government to fix the economic and social disparities which plague the region. The protests sometimes turned violent. In mid-March demonstrators clashed with police and torched five police vehicles, causing an unspecified number of injuries to officers and activists.
Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, criticized the government’s response, saying, “The authorities must allow peaceful protest by prioritising the safety of protesters. People should be free to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and security forces should never be allowed to use excessive force against protesters.”
In the wake of the Jerada protests, Moroccan officials have pledged new economic opportunities for the region including the opening of new mines and a pledge to turn the region into an industrial zone, “which will provide young entrepreneurs in several business sectors with the opportunity to carry out their projects.”