Crackdown on Environmental Groups as Journalists go on Trial in Morocco

Peaceful Assembly 

On 1st July, a seminar on environmental and land rights scheduled to take place at the Municipal Council of Marrakesh was banned by the Moroccan authorities. The ban comes as Morocco prepares to host the 22nd Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework on Climate Change ( COP 22) in November 2016, leading civil society to accuse the government of double standards by hosting prestigious international gatherings on environmental issues, while suppressing domestic activists. The authorities' disruption of meetings also affects other groups in Moroccan civil society. For instance, the Moroccan Association for Human Rights recently reported that 104 of their meetings, sit-ins and conferences were disrupted or disbanded by the authorities between July 2014 and May 2016. Following the ban, Frontline Defenders issued an alert calling on the Moroccan authorities to guarantee freedom of association and peaceful assembly. Despite the ban, Attac Maroc, the Moroccan Association for Human Rights and the Amazigh Citizenship Network held a peaceful protest before the Municipal Council building. 

Environmental issues are a key concern for civil society groups in Morocco. In a separate development, Moroccans are protesting against the importation and disposal of Italian rubbish in Casablanca. An online petition protesting against the 2,500 tons of rubbish being imported has received over 20,000 signatures from people across Morocco. 

On July 24th,  thousands of Moroccan public sector workers demonstrated against a new law proposing an increase in the standard retirement age. The new law, which comes into effect next year, has been met with fierce opposition by trade unions in Morocco. Despite the pressure from civil society, the government has made no indication that it will reverse course on implementation of the law. 

Expression

In recent months, threats to freedom of expression in Morocco have drawn attention from international groups. In June,  seven journalists were put on trial for “threatening the internal security of the state” through “propaganda” that may threaten “the loyalty that citizens owe to the State and institutions of the Moroccan people.” The prosecution was brought against the seven journalists who had provided training on use of the StoryMaker app, which allows anyone to create and publish news stories using only their smart phone. 

The authorities' heavy handed approach led some to question whether the charges are politically motivated. Many of the defendants were active in the 20th February movement in 2011, which aimed to promote democracy and combat anti-corruption. If convicted, the defendants face up to 5 years in prison, setting a dangerous precedent for independent journalists operating in the country. The trial continues.