Hundreds of rain-soaked demonstrators marched through Morocco’s capital city to protest the continued imprisonment of 54 Hirak Rif activists, following the denial of their appeals.
Rabat – The sound of rain was drowned out by the chants of hundreds of protestors at this year’s first major march in support of Hirak Rif prisoners in Morocco, following a controversial court decision.
Slogans such as “No liberty, no peace” and “Stand with Hirak Rif” rattled the gates of Parliament as dozens of protesters waving Amazigh (Berber) flags rallied in front of the building in Rabat.
The protest was sparked by the Casablanca Court of Appeals’ decision to uphold the sentences of 54 Hirak activists who have been in prison since June 2018—activists were given sentences varying from one to 20 years.
Following the court’s April 5 decision, more than a dozen organizations began planning the march, each one calling for all of its members to join the protest.
“It is great so many organizations are working together because we are giving the people a unified front,” Merieme Maskar, an organizer for the Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH) told Morocco World News (MWN). “If we keep protesting together that gives all of the prisoners a better chance of being freed.”
The majority of the political prisoners who are from Al Hoceima, a northern Moroccan province, identify as Amazigh.
To show solidarity with their imprisoned kin, several Amazigh rights groups marched alongside the AMDH.
“They are Amazigh just like us. All they did was exactly what we are doing now, fight for basic human rights,” Meryam Demnati, an activist for the Observatory of Amazigh Rights and Liberties, told MWN. “We are marching for every Amazigh prisoner and are demanding their liberty because their liberty is our liberty.”
The streets of Rabat weren’t the only ones filled with protests this weekend.
On Saturday, April 20, roughly 250 protestors in the Netherlands took to the streets of The Hague, denouncing the continued imprisonment of the activists for the first time since the recent appeal denial.
“We demand the immediate release of all Hirak Rif prisoners,” Mohammed Talhaoui, a politician for the Dutch Labour Party and member of the Rif Project, told MWN. “If the entirety of the EU demands the Moroccan government to release the prisoners, it would only be a matter of hours until they do so.”
Talhaoui, whose parents are from the Rif Region, says many Moroccans in the Netherlands feel a strong connection to the movement.
“We hope that the protests we are organizing here act as a wake up call to the Dutch government and the European Union to bring an end to these human right violations,” Talhaoui said.
On April 3, days before the appeal failed, 25 members of the European Parliament signed a letter that was delivered to Morocco’s justice minister Mohammed Aujjar. The document expressed their concern “about the conditions of imprisonment of all the activists of the popular movement of the Rif, especially Nasser Zafzafi.”
The same parliament members have also summoned Morocco’s ambassador to the Netherlands to discuss the court’s decision. This request is pending the approval of the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Stef Blok who, during his last visit to the Kingdom, spoke out against the sentencing.
At a press conference during his visit, Blok pointed out the unresponsiveness of Moroccan officials during the Rif uprisings, suggesting that the government and its apparatus had not been “effective in responding to the grievances of the people who took to the streets.”
Along with the European Parliament members, more than 300 people from political parties, organizations, and labor unions have signed an international petition condemning the court’s decisions. Organizations from eight countries across Europe and North Africa signed the petition.
Basis for sentencing
In 2018, 54 Hirak activists were convicted of “threatening state security” following their participation in the 2016-17 Hirak Rif protests in Al Hoceima.
The massive demonstrations were sparked by the death of Mohcine Fikri, a local fishmonger who was killed in a garbage truck while trying to retrieve his confiscated fish.
The Hirak Rif protestors, in addition to seeking justice in the form of an investigation into the death of Fikri, also protested political conditions and demanded reforms such as demilitarization of the northern Rif region, shared governance in investment and infrastructure planning, the release of political prisoners, and respect for Amazigh identity.
The Moroccan government quelled the 10-month long demonstration by arresting hundreds of protestors, including the movement’s leadership.