A group of people hold banners during a demonstration against the prison sentence for Rif Movement leader Nasser Zefzafi and members along with him, in front of the parliament building in Rabat, Morocco on 27 June 2018 [Jalal Morchidi|Anadolu Agency]
Anadolu

Moroccans hit the streets of Casablanca on Wednesday to condemn heavy prison sentences handed down to leaders of a movement that agitated Morocco in 2016-2017.

The ‘hirak rif’‘ or the Rif movement is a popular protest movement that took place in the Berber-speaking Rig region in northern Morocco between October 2016 and June 2017, following the death of Mochine Fikri, a fishmonger who was crushed to death in a garbage truck after jumping the back. It follows confiscation of his allegedly illegal fish merchandise, which he was selling on the local market.

At the end of a nine-month trial, leader of the movement Nasser Zefzafi and three of his compatriots were on Tuesday evening sentenced to 20 years in prison in Casablanca for “undermining state security.”

Forty-nine (49) other activists were also sentenced to between one and fifteen years in prison. Charges ranged from “attempts at sabotage, murder and looting to “receipt of funds for propaganda activity” through “participation in the organization of prohibited demonstrations”.

Locals are outraged about the sentence and thus hits the streets to demand a reversal of the judgment.

“Today, Moroccans are coming out in the tens, hundreds and thousands from different locations across the country to protest. The judgements handed down to these young people is so surreal. It is quite normal to see this kind of indignation, because since yesterday and until today, most Moroccans have denounced this kind of judgment’‘, said journalist, Rachid Elbelghiti.

“The general conditions that surrounded this issue – the Rif immigrants, the rise of radicalism in the Rif, and the people who began to lose hope in the political forces, all this explains why the authorities have decided on heavy penalties, said lawyer Ahmed Dgherni.

Defendants boycotted the last hearings by denouncing the “bias of justice” through a joint statement, according to AFP.

After the verdict, their relatives left the court expressing outrage and chanting “Long live the Rif”, in reference to the historically rebellious and marginalized region of northern Morocco, which saw the birth of the “Hirak”.

The Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH) and Amnesty International in a statement called for the annulment of the verdict of guilt which they describe as unfair.

An online petition which has been launched to mobilize citizens in condemning the lawsuits of #Hirak #Rif”, has recorded almost 3,000 signatories within a few hours.

On Facebook, thousands of people have replaced their profile photo with a black background, with comments on the “shame” felt at this “injustice”, comparing the sentences with those more “lenient” pronounced against “pedophiles” and the criminals”.

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