- 14 Jun 2017
- [International Secretariat]
- Region: KINGDOM OF MOROCCO
The Moroccan authorities have carried out a chilling wave of arrests rounding up scores of protesters, activists and bloggers in the Rif, northern Morocco, over the past week following months of protests demanding an end to marginalization of communities and better access to services in the region, said Amnesty International.
The recent wave of protests was triggered when protest leader Nasser Zefzafi publicly criticized a cleric leading the midday prayer in a mosque on 26 May, for statements allegedly opposing popular protests in the Rif. A video of the incident was later shared on social media and he was arrested days later.
Between 26 and 31 May 2017, security forces arrested at least 71 people following protests in several towns. Some protests escalated into stone-throwing at security forces who on occasion deployed water cannons and teargas in response. Injuries were reported on both sides. However, many activists, including peaceful protesters and bloggers who had documented the events on social media, were arrested after the protests had ended.
At least 33 people are now on trial. The charges against them include assaulting and insulting public officers, stone-throwing, rebellion and unauthorized gathering. A request to release 26 of them from pre-trial detention was refused and the case was adjourned until 6 June. They remain in detention at Al Hoceima Local Prison.
Lawyers told Amnesty International that they had seen visible injuries on the faces and bodies of several defendants who appeared before the Crown Prosecutor in Al Hoceima. They said that the defendants described how police officers had beaten, kicked, hit and slapped them upon arrest and during their transfer to police stations.
Thirty-one of the 71 arrested between 26 and 31 May have been transferred to Casablanca for police interrogation by Morocco's National Brigade for the Judicial Police (BNPJ), a national police body which tackles serious crimes, including state security and terrorism offences. Although the detainees have yet to be formally charged, this raises fears that authorities may accuse them of state security offences.
Morocco’s Code of Criminal Procedure allows detainees to be held without charge in police custody for up to three days for ordinary offences, and longer periods of up to eight days for state-security offences, and 12 days for terrorism-related offences. The law also allow judicial authorities to delay access to lawyers, if required for the investigation.
Amnesty International has called on the authorities to include the right to have a lawyer during police interrogation for all suspects in its ongoing criminal procedure reform.
"It is essential that the Moroccan authorities respect the right to freedom of expression and assembly. Those charged with a legally recognized offence, must not be denied the right to a fair trial. The authorities should also ensure that peaceful activists are not convicted on trumped-up charges as punishment for participating in protests in the Rif," said Heba Morayef, North Africa Research Director for Amnesty International.
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