Family members and friends of the political prisoners arrested in June 2017 during the massive protests in Morocco’s northern Rif region held a vigil outside the parliament in Rabat on Saturday, May 25, demanding their release. In June 2018, a court had convicted the activists and sentenced them to prison. Several leaders of the Rif movement, including Nasser Zefzafi and Nabil Ahmejik, received 20-year sentences. On April 5, 2019, the Court of Appeal upheld the sentences.
On October 28 2016, Mohcen Fikri, a fish vender from Houceima, a coastal city in the Rif, was killed after police confiscated his fish and threw it into a garbage truck. When Fikri attempted to retrieve his fish, his means for economic survival, he was crushed to death by the compactor. This tragic incident, which highlighted the Moroccan regime’s deep disregard for its working class, especially in the Rif region, sparked a mass movement in the region and across Morocco.
The movement or Hirak mobilized thousands in Houceima and across the Rif on issues of government neglect, unemployment and lack of opportunities. It also denounced the endemic government corruption, repression of people’s movements and renewed calls for democracy in Morocco which is governed by a monarchy, referred to as the Makhzen system. Calls were made for greater social investment in the largely marginalized region through the building of hospitals, schools and the generation of employment.
The movement faced harsh state repression with protesters facing violent attacks from the police and during the months of protests, more than 1,000 were arrested. Most were later released, but 53 leaders were brought to Okkacha prison in Casablanca and accused of “destabilizing the internal security of the state” and other grave charges. The legal proceedings were marred by irregularities and inconsistencies. During the trial, the activists even refused to deliver their final statements to protest what they saw as the political manipulation of the judicial process.
On June 26, 2018, a Casablanca court sentenced the 53 activists to over 300 years in prison. Since then, several activists who were given smaller sentences have been released, but 38 still remain in prison.
The crackdown on the activists was met with fierce protests from the people of Morocco. The demand for the release of the prisoners who are facing disproportionate sentences because of their activism continues to be a rallying point for progressive organizations across the country. Similar protests are scheduled in different cities of Morocco in the coming weeks.