Human rights in Morocco deteriorate in 2017-18: rights group

RABAT (Reuters) - Morocco’s most influential rights group AMDH deplored on Thursday what it said was a surge in political and arbitrary detentions of human rights campaigners, journalists and social activists.

FILE PHOTO: A woman shouts slogans during a demonstration against the Moroccan court, after the jailing of Moroccan activist and the leader of the "Hirak Rif" movement, Nasser Zefzafi and other activists in Rabat, Morocco July 15, 2018. REUTERS/Youssef Boudlal/File Photo

In a report covering last year and the first half of 2018, the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH) said there had been serious violations in remote parts of Rif - a predominantly Berber area which has been shaken by protests - as well as Jerada, Zagora and other regions.

“The numbers of political detainees surpassed those reported in the 1990s,” AMDH president Ahmed ElHaij told a news conference, noting that 1,020 are either detained or being tried for their involvement in or support for peaceful protests across the kingdom.

The government did not immediately respond to the report, although human rights minister Mustapha Ramid has said Morocco is neither a paradise nor a hell for rights.

In the wake of 2011 Arab Spring protests, Morocco adopted a new constitution enshrining freedom of speech, and promoting other rights such as the strengthening of an independent judiciary, and enshrining Amazigh - which is spoken by the Berber community - as a national language.

But seven years on, AMDH said Morocco is letting slide the freedoms and human rights commitments promised to protesters.

The state has dragged its feet on implementing its international commitments to fight torture, the 296-page report said. As for civil liberties, AMDH drew a bleak picture citing a violent crackdown by the state on peaceful protests notably in the Rif.

The Rif protests over economic and social demands erupted after the death of fishmonger Mouhcine Fikri in October 2016, who was crushed inside a rubbish truck trying to recover fish confiscated by police.

Last June, a Casablanca court handed jail terms to 52 people over the Rif demonstrations. Protest leader Nasser Zefzafi was sentenced in a first instance verdict to 20 years in prison.

The Rif demonstrations, along with those in the mining town of Jerada in early 2018, have been the most intense since the unrest in 2011 that prompted King Mohammed VI to devolve some of his powers to an elected parliament.

The report documented cases of the violation of press freedom which cost Morocco two places in the Reporters without Borders 2017 index where it ranks 133rd out of 180 countries.

AMDH denounced the trial of local journalists including Hamid El Mahdaoui who covered the Rif protests. It also called on the authorities to adopt a law protecting migrants and asylum seekers and to halt the deportation of migrants.

Morocco is struggling with an influx of African migrants seeking passage to nearby Europe.

Reporting by Ahmed Eljechtimi; editing by David Stamp