Moroccan journalist Hamid El-Mahdaoui was released on July 20, Monday, after spending four years in a prison in Rabat. He was sentenced to a three years prison term in 2018 for “failing to report an attempt to undermine state security.” He was welcomed by his family outside the prison.
Mahdaoui was the editor-in-chief of Badil.info news outlet which has been critical to the state’s policies. He was arrested in July 2017 for his alleged participation in the Hirak-Rif movement in Morocco’s northern al-Hoceima province. He was kept in prison pending his trial and conviction in June 2018.
He was finally sentenced by a court in Casablanca on June 28, 2018 for three years. His charges included, “inciting participation in banned protest” and “threatening national security.”
Activists and movements within the region expressed their happiness for Mahdaoui’s release and many went to greet him outside the jail. Peoples Dispatch spoke to Maroua, an activist with the National Federation of Agriculture Sector in Morocco and a participant in the Hirak movement, who expressed her apprehension that given the nature of the regime in Morocco and the “free pen” spirit of Mahdaoui, the release at best be called a “conditional” one which can be revoked anytime by the authorities. “We need to be ready for all such eventualities in Morocco,” she emphasized.
The protests in Houceima, well-known as the Hirak-Rif movement, first started in October 2016 after a fishmonger, Mohcen Fikri, was killed by the authorities after he protested confiscation of his fish by the police. The protests went on for months and spread throughout the northern Rif region of the country. The protesters demanded the immediate end of all repressive state policies and demilitarization of the region. They were also critical of the lack of employment opportunities and development in the region, alleging state biases against the Amazigh communities. Moroccan authorities used oppressive methods and violence against the protesters and arrested scores of them.
According to Morocco World News, 54 of these protesters, including Nasser Zefzafi, a human rights activist and leader of the movement, have been sentenced to longer jail terms (up to 20 years in prison) by the courts in the country in 2018. The courts had decided to try Mahdaoui separately from the others arrested at the time, following protests from civil society groups and journalists.