Riffians have flooded Al Hoceima streets in protest of the Casablanca Court of Appeals’ ruling, upholding the sentences given to the Hirak Rif activists last year.
Rabat – On Sunday, April 7, inhabitants of the city of Al Hoceima, the main city of northern Morocco’s Rif region, took to the streets by the hundreds to demand the release of Nasser Zefzafi, the leader of the popular mass protests in 2016 and 2017 known as Hirak.
Waving Amazigh (Berber) flags, protesters chanted slogans such as “Death instead of humiliation,” “The state is corrupt,” and “We want prisoners freed!”
Incarcerated in the Casablanca Oukacha prison since May 2017, Nasser Zefzafi lost his appeal on April 5 at the Court of Appeals in Casablanca, which upheld his 20-year sentence.
A Casablanca court found Hirak activists guilty on charges of “attacks on the internal and external security of the State, violence with premeditation,” and “disturbing the public order.”
The court handed down sentences from 1 to 20 years for 54 Hirak activists in June 2018. Human rights organization Amnesty International deemed the guilty verdicts “unfair” and said they must be overturned.
Three other prominent Hirak activists, including Ouassim El Boustati and Samir Ghid, like Zefzafi, received 20 years in prison. Hirak leaders like Zakaria Adehchour, Mohamed Haki, and Mohamed Bouhenouch received 15-year sentences.
The journalist Hamid El Mahdaoui received a 3-year prison sentence on a charge related to national security threats. Human Rights Watch described the charges against Mehdaoui as “dubious.”
The activists appealed the sentences, but Zefzafi refused to attend an appeal hearing in January 2019, claiming there was an “absence of the minimum requirements for a fair trial.”
On April 3, 24 members of the European Parliament and an MP from the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly addressed a letter to Morocco’s justice minister Mohamed Aujjar, calling on him to free Nasser Zefzafi and “all the prisoners of the popular movement of the Rif.”
The letter also expressed concern for Zefzafi’s deteriorating health and the distance between the court in Casablanca and the prisoners’ families in Al Hoceima.
Moroccans protested outside the court to decry the ruling and call for the immediate release of the Hirak activists.
The Hirak protests broke out in October 2016 following the tragic death of a fishmonger, Mohcine Fikri, who was crushed in a garbage truck when he attempted to retrieve his confiscated merchandise.