Moroccan opposition party proposes bill seeking amnesty for Hirak Rif prisoners

Moroccan opposition party proposes bill seeking amnesty for Hirak Rif prisoners
The protests’ leader Nasser Zafzafi refuses a royal pardon, arguing that such a move holds him guilty for the simple reason of protesting social injustices in his region.
3 min read
19 April, 2022
The parliamentary's amnesty can be a legislative labyrinth that will ultimately require a royal decision to be approved. [Getty]

A Moroccan opposition party has introduced a bill to the Moroccan parliament seeking amnesty for the prisoners related to the Hirak Rif movement, eight of whom remain behind bars since protests over social injustices in North Morocco erupted in 2016.

Nabila Mounib, the head of the United Socialist Party, proposed the draft law on Monday that aims to end the protesters' long sentences, including the uprising's leader Nasser Zefzafi, who was sentenced in 2017 to twenty years in jail.

"The presence of the best youth of the region behind bars and the issuance of harsh sentences against them simply for their many demands that the government itself recognised as legitimate and just, is unacceptable," said the proposed bill.

Mounib's proposal is based on Article 71 of the Moroccan Constitution, which states that "Parliament is competent to issue the law, in addition to the articles expressly assigned to it in other chapters of the constitution, such as amnesty."

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Meanwhile, Article 51 of the Constitution grants the Moroccan king the "right to pardon" prisoners, without adding further details. Royal pardon includes hundreds of prisoners each year,  usually issued during Islamic and national holidays.

During the past four years, the palace pardoned hundreds of Hirak Rif prisoners, including several protesters who were sentenced to twenty years.

To receive a royal pardon in Morocco, the prisoner needs to submit a request, in which they admit guilt and seek pardon from the highest authority in the country, with a commitment from them not to repeat what they were convicted for. 

The protests' leader Nasser Zefzafi has so far refused a royal pardon, arguing that it holds him guilty for the simple reason of protesting social injustices in his region.

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Some view a parliamentary's amnesty may be the most practical solution to alleviate a five-year-long socio-political conflict that fuels long-standing sentiments of injustice experienced by Rifis.

"The purpose of it [the amnesty] is to get out of the predicament in which judicial rulings put us, and so as not to harm the independence of the judiciary," Abdel Rahim Allam, a Moroccan expert in constitutional law elaborated to The New Arab.

However, a parliamentary's amnesty, which was first introduced in the 2011 constitution, can be a legislative labyrinth that would ultimately require a royal decision to be approved.

According to Article 49 of the Constitution, the study of the draft law related to this type of amnesty must be submitted to the Ministerial Council, headed by the Moroccan king, for deliberation.

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Hirak Rif's uprising erupted in 2016, after Mohsen Fikri, a Rifi fishmonger was crushed to death inside a garbage truck, under police watch, as he climbed in to retrieve his shipment of fish that was confiscated by authorities.

For many Rifis, a male voice yelling "crush him" in the background of the video that documented Fikri's death echoed "the neglect" of the state for decades towards the cities of the mountainous region.

Protesters called for justice, an end to corruption and better treatment for Rifis, who were notoriously described by former King Hassan II as "despicables".

In 2017, authorities launched a campaign of mass arrests, that included the movement's leader Nasser Zefzafi.

According to estimates by activists, eight detainees from the Hirak remain in Moroccan prisons, most notably Nasser Zefzafi and Nabil Ahamjik, who are both sentenced to 20 years for "serving a separatist agenda and conspiring to harm state security."