Tens of thousands took to the streets of Morocco’s capital Rabat on Sunday, July 15, to demonstrate against the jailing of leaders of a protest movement in the predominantly Berber region of Rif.
A court in Casablanca in June sentenced 39 people, including protest leader Nasser Zefzafi, to terms of up to 20 years in jail in connection with a protest movement that shook Morocco in late 2016 and early 2017.
The protests erupted after a fishmonger was crushed inside a rubbish truck while trying to recover fish confiscated by police in the northern city of Al-Hoceima in October 2016.
Detainees and their families had called for Sunday’s march, which brought together Berber (Amazigh) groups, leftist opposition parties, human rights groups and the banned Islamist movement Al-Adl wal-Ihsan.
The Al-Hoceima demonstrations, along with protests in the mining town of Jerada in early 2018, marked the biggest unrest in Morocco since Arab Spring protests in 2011 prompted King Mohammed VI to devolve some of his powers to an elected parliament.
After the Rif protests the king dismissed three ministers and various other officials over a lack of progress in a development plan for the Rif.
Ahmed Dgherni, one of the founders of the Berber (Amazigh) movement, called the march “a popular referendum that united different political trends” to back the cause of freedom.
After last month’s verdicts, a lawyer representing the state said the sentences were lenient and that some of the accused had been indicted for serious crimes including attacking law enforcement officers.
Lawyers of Rif activists say they will appeal against the sentences.