Morocco king pardons jailed Hirak protesters for Eid al-Adha holiday

Morocco king pardons jailed Hirak protesters for Eid al-Adha holiday
Scores of Moroccan protesters were released from jail on Tuesday, as King Mohammed announced a pardon to mark the Eid al-Adha holiday.
2 min read
22 August, 2018
Morocco's king pardoned the protesters for the Eid al-Adha holidays [Getty]

Nearly 200 Moroccan activists were released from detention on Tuesday, as King Mohammed VI announced a pardon for a number of jailed protesters to mark the Eid al-Adha holiday.

A total of 188 people linked to the "Hirak" protest movement were released, the National Council on Human Rights announced on Tuesday.

Initially it was reported that just 11 activists - serving sentences of two to three years - were to be released.

They were part in the al-Hirak al-Shaabi, or "Popular Movement", protests that took place in the northern Rif region between 2016 and 2017.

The rest of those freed also took part in protests in the disadvantaged region, according to Moroccan media.

It was not immediately possible to get confirmation from the justice ministry, which published the list of people granted royal pardons.

Protests broke out in the Rif in October 2016 after the death of a fisherman when police confiscated his wares.

It soon sparked a wave of protests demanding more money for the underdeveloped Rif region, while calls were also made for the government to tackle corruption and unemployment.

The pardoned Hirak detainees were immediately released with human rights council coordinating their return home, according to a council official.

A Casablanca court on 26 June sentenced 53 Hirak members to prison terms ranging from one year to 20 years, sparking widespread anger.

There are believed to have been more than 400 people arrested due to the Hirak protests, the rights council says.

The movement's leader Nasser Zafzafi - who was sentenced with three companions to 20 years in prison for "threatening the security of the state" - was not among those on the pardon list.

Journalist Hamid el-Mahdaoui, sentenced to three years for covering the events, also appeared to be absent from the pardons.

The defendants in the Casablanca trial have appealed and the hearing is scheduled for October.

Amnesty International has called for the verdicts and sentences to be overturned "due to the unfair nature of their trials", while Rabat insists the trials were fair.

Royal pardons are traditionally handed down at major holidays.

King Mohammed VI pardoned 522 people for Youth Day on Tuesday, which is also the birthday of the monarch, who turned 55.

On Monday, the anniversary of "the revolution of the king and the people", he also passed 428 pardons, including for 22 Salafis convicted of extremism or terrorism but who had volunteered for a "reconciliation" reintegration programme.