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Thousands of Moroccans Protest Prison Sentences Against 'Hirak Rif' Activists

Thousands of Moroccans Protest Prison Sentences Against 'Hirak Rif' Activists

Monday, 22 April, 2019 - 05:00
A Moroccan protester holds a banner reading in Arabic 'freedom for Hirak Rif detainees' during a protest against prison sentences given to activists in Rabat, Morocco, 21 April 2019. EPA/JALAL MORCHIDI
Riyadh - Asharq Al-Awsat
Demonstrators marched in Morocco's capital, Rabat, on Sunday to condemn lengthy prison sentences given to activists of the "Hirak Rif" poverty-fighting movement.

Thousands took to the streets to call for the release of the detainees, chanting different slogans: "The people want the detainees released" and "Long live Rif."

Hirak leader Nasser Zefzafi, one of the detainees, received a prison sentence term of 20 years for threatening state security. Zefzafi, seen as the movement's public face, was arrested in 2017.

An appeals court upheld his sentence and those of other activists in April.

Rif is the struggling region in northern Morocco where the Hirak movement was born in 2016, demanding development and job creation for the region, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

Relatives and human rights organizations are demanding the imprisoned activists' immediate release.

The mother of Rabea Al-Ablaq, one of the detainees who was sentenced to five years in prison, told Asharq Al-Awsat that she is calling "for the release of her son and all the other detainees."

She confirmed that her son's health is "deteriorating after he refused to end the hunger strike which he started following the court's sentence."

"Zefzafi and his comrades demanded social justice and creation of schools and hospitals. How is that a crime?" the secretary general of the opposition United Socialist Party (PSU), Nabila Mounib, said during the protest.

She told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Moroccan government made a mistake in its approach against those activists.

"We came out in this demonstration along with many political, civil and human rights groups to express our full solidarity with these detainees," said Abdel Wahed Al-Mutawakkil, who heads the political circle of the semi-banned "Justice and Charity Movement."

Mutawakkil stressed to Asharq Al-Awsat that "they made legitimate demands which everyone acknowledged."

"But, why are they being tried and jailed, given very harsh sentences?," he added.

Mutawakkil denounced the sentences describing them as "unjust" and called for the immediate release of all detainees.

For his part, government lawyer Mohamed Al Houssaini Karout argued that the appeals court confirmed the sentences because there was "nothing new to look at" in the case.

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