Around 100,000 demonstrators took to the streets of the Moroccan capital Rabat on 11 June in solidarity with the mass movement in the Rif region, following a crackdown by the authorities and the arrest of movement leaders.
The revival of mass protests in the capital follows months of demonstrations in the Rif raising a range of demands for political reform and social change.
The Rif movement exploded in October 2016 following the murder of Al Hoceima fish-seller Mohsin Fikri, who was crushed to death in the back of a bin lorry while municipal officials tried to confiscate his wares.
In the wake of Mohsin’s death, protests erupted across Morocco, linking issues of corruption, unemployment and social justice with the demands of the Rif’s Amazigh-speaking population for cultural, economic and social rights.
However over the winter, the movement outside the Rif retreated, while repression within the Rif intensified, perhaps reflecting the regime’s calculation that the protest movement had been contained and isolated.
Between 26 May and 31 May, Moroccan security forces rounded up 71 people following protests in the Rif’s regional capital, Al Hoceima and the neighbouring towns of Imzouren and Beni Bouayach.
Among those arrested was Nasser Zefzafi, an important protest leader from Al Hoceima. Lawyers for the detainees told Amnesty International they saw signs of beatings on their bodies, and that the prisoners had been insulted and in some cases threatened with rape.
A few days after their arrest, 31 of the detainees were transferred to Casablanca for interrogation, raising fears that they would be charged with state security or terrorism offences.
Despite the crackdown, protests in Al Hoceima continued to grow, however, with thousands turning out nightly. The Moroccan regime’s other tactics, including urging criticism of the protests from the pulpit in the city’s mosques, and a barrage of media attacks on the protesters as ‘separatists’ and ‘traitors’, failed to halt the rising tide of mobilisation.
Outside the Rif, the solidarity movement also surged ahead, with huge numbers joining the demonstration in the capital on 11 June.
Demonstrators also called for the release of political prisoners at a protest in London on 12 June in solidarity with the movement in Morocco. Search on Facebook for Hirak – Morocco Solidarity Initiative UK for more information.