On 1 November, leading human rights group the Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH) publicly denounced a “regression of human rights” in the North African country. In a report that covered actions of the state throughout 2017 and the first half of this year, AMDH detailed “the repression of several movements,” including those of human rights activists, journalists and social issue campaigners.
Reuters has reported that AMDH’s president, Ahmed El Hajj, told a news conference that the number of political detainees in Morocco currently surpasses those reported in the 1990s when the country was under the severe leadership of King Hassan II. El Hajj further added that 1,020 of these prisoners are being detained under ambiguous reasons such as for holding “critical opinions” or for engaging in “activities within protest movements.” The 296-page report also contains condemnations of the Moroccan state’s failure to end the use of torture, and its violent repressions of peaceful protests.
Central to the AMDH’s lengthy report is the state’s actions in the northern Moroccan region of Rif, an area affected by unrest since October 2016. Protests began there when a local fishmonger Mouhcine Fikri was crushed to death in a rubbish truck while attempting to recover swordfish that had been confiscated by local police. Demands soon followed for improvements to socioeconomic conditions, including more job opportunities and investment. This sense of marginalization is particularly prominent amongst the majority Berber ethnic group in Rif. In June 2017, a Moroccan court sentenced the leader of Rif’s Hirak protest group, Nazzer Zefzafi, to 20 years in prison, and handed down jail terms to 52 other protesters. All were officially recorded as guilty of “plotting to undermine the security of the state.”
AMDH’s report particularly denounces the trial of local journalists, including Hamid El Mahdaoui for his coverage of the Rif protests, as well as the treatment of protesters in Rif, and unrest in the mining town of Jerada that was also met with violent suppression by state authorities in March 2018. Overall, the report accuses the state of multiple cases of serious violations of human rights.
In 2011, Arab Spring-inspired riots and protests shook Morocco as people took to the streets to demand a reduction in King Mohammed’s autocratic powers, and a constitution. Six people were killed in these protests. Following this, King Mohammed inaugurated a new constitution that promised freedom of speech, the safeguarding of human rights, an independent judiciary, and the enshrining of the Berber-spoken Amazigh as a national language. AMDH’s report reveals, however, that these commitments have been neglected seven years on.
This report is particularly concerning for a North African state that has appeared to take important steps towards a more comprehensive human rights agenda in recent years. Where King Mohammed has been hailed for granting greater rights to women and children, AMDH’s report reveals how these advances are not all that they seem. Morocco still has a lot to achieve before it can be said that real progress has been made since 2011. At the time of writing, the government has not responded to the report’s observations. The country’s human rights minister Mustapha Ramid has previously been reported, however, as saying that Morocco is “not hell for human rights, but it is not heaven.” AMDH’s report may now serve to clarify this statement by revealing how repressive measures are still widespread for swathes of Moroccan society.