On February 23, Sunday, four Moroccan left-wing parties along with various human rights groups, trade unions and civil society associations organized a massive protest in the city of Casablanca against a range of issues plaguing the country. Moroccans have been dealing with deteriorating economic conditions, unemployment and high costs of living due to social inequality and lack of civil and human rights in the country, as well as the anti-democratic policies followed by the establishment. Thousands of people who took part in the protests demanded greater democratic rights, improvement in living conditions and the release of political prisoners, especially those detained during the Rif Hirak protests.
Rif Hirak was a popular countryside protest movement that began in October 2016 in the Northern Rif region in Houceima and spread to a number of other cities and villages. It started after a fish seller, Mohcine Fikri, from Houceima was crushed to death when he tried to retrieve his fish from a garbage truck which the police had confiscated and thrown out. His death sparked a mass movement across the country which was met with brutal state repression, leading to over a 1,000 arrests. 53 leaders of the movement were tried in court and together sentenced to more than 300 years in prison. Among them, some were given shorter prison terms and have been released but 39 still remain in jail serving sentences of up to 20 years.
Sunday’s protests involved over 30 organizations that came together under the banner of the Moroccan Social Front (FSM). These included notable organizations such as the Democratic Confederation of Labour (CDT) and the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH). The protesters marched from the Al-Nasr square to the end of the Darb Omar neighborhood. They chanted slogans demanding greater respect for human rights, improvement in citizens’ lives, and condemned the restrictions imposed on social media activists and civil liberties in the country. They also lamented the abysmal state of public services. The protesters were seen raising large banners and posters and waving red flags.
The organizers had planned the protest march to coincide with the anniversary of the February 20 protests of 2011 in Morocco, which had broken out during the popular Arab Spring protests that were taking place across multiple countries in the region.
FSM’s national board member Ali Boutwala told AFP that this was FSM’s first organized protest, adding that the aim was to “reject anti-democratic policies, social injustice, the decline in human rights and policies that led to the deterioration of purchasing power”. Younis Ferrachin, coordinator of the FSM, said in a speech during the protests that the march was being held to demand social justice, rights and freedoms and that the struggle would continue until these demands are met. He raised alarm about the rapid decline in the human rights situation in the country, as well the increasing systematic restrictions being imposed on civil and political freedoms of Moroccan citizens.
Even though the Moroccan King Mohamed VI pardoned 4764 prison detainees in July last year on the occasion of his completion of 20 years in power, the Moroccan authorities have in recent times stepped up the number of arrests and cases of persecution of activists, artists, journalists and bloggers. Citizens have been arrested for such things as social media posts, youtube videos, rap songs and peaceful and nonviolent criticism of the government. Human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have called upon the Moroccan government to immediately release those who have been detained merely for expressing their opinions and to end all restrictions on basic civil and human rights in the country.