Thousands rally in Morocco for jailed Rif opponents

Thousands rally in Morocco for jailed Rif opponents
Under the watchful eyes of the police, protesters in Morocco's Rabat marched towards parliament on Sunday, brandishing pictures of jailed Rif opponents.

2 min read
15 July, 2018
Thousands of protesters gathered in the Moroccan capital on Sunday [Getty]

Thousands of people demonstrated in Morocco's capital Rabat against the jailing of leaders and activists of a northern protest movement, reports said on Sunday.

"The people boycott the justice system!" and "free the detainees!”, were among the chants heard at the protests, according to AFP reporters.

The demonstrators also chanted against militarisation of the Rif, the northern region rocked by the Al-Hirak al-Shaabi (Popular Movement) protests in 2016 and 2017.

Under the watchful eyes of the police, people marched towards parliament brandishing pictures of the movement's leaders and activists.

In June, a Moroccan court sentenced 53 Hirak members to prison terms ranging from one year to 20 years.  

Protest leader Nasser Zefzafi and three others were handed each 20-year jail terms for "plotting to undermine the security of the state".

Islamist group Al Adl Wal Ihsane - tolerated but unrecognised by the government - was one of several groups to take part in Sunday's protest. 

The group mobilised between 6,000 and 8,000 people, local authorities said. 

Those sentenced in June include journalist Hamid el Mahdaoui who has given a three-year jail term for "failing to denounce an attempt to harm internal state security" in his coverage. 

The activists are appealing the sentences and Amnesty International has called for the verdicts to be overturned.

The 2016 protests began when fisherman Mouhcine Fikri was crushed to death in a rubbish truck, while he was apparently trying to retrieve swordfish seized by authorities as it was caught out of season.

Subsequent unrest in the Rif region, where the marginalised Berber ethnic group is the majority, focused on social issues.

The Rif region erupted into riots, with protesters demanding jobs, funding for the impoverished area and an end to alleged government corruption.

The al-Hoceima demonstrations - along with the protests that hit Jerada in early 2018 - have been the most intense since the 2011 unrest that had prompted King Mohammed VI to devolve some of his powers to an elected parliament.

Agencies contributed to this report.