Social movements repressed and critical voices remain silenced

Peaceful Assembly

As previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, during 2016 and 2017, Morocco was rocked by the Hirak movement in Rif, northern Morocco. During this unrest, Mohcine Fikri, a fishmonger lost his life after police confiscated his goods. The vendor was killed after he became trapped in waste disposal grinder, while trying to stop his fish from being destroyed. In the aftermath, the region saw sustained protests calling for justice as well as social and economic reforms in the region. The protests strained relations between Rif, an ethnically Berber region of Morocco and Moroccan central authorities. 

These regional protests were met with repression and arrest. In reaction, the government arrested hundreds of protesters for mobilising on the streets in Rif. In May 2017 the leader of the protests, Nasser Zefzafi was arrested. After a nine-month trial, in June 2018, protesters Zefzafi and Nabil Ahmijeq, Wassim El Boustani and Samir Aghid were sentenced for a 20-year jail term. In total 53 protesters were handed sentences between two and fifteen years for participating in the protests. The video below captures the outrage over the heavy handed sentencing. 

The lengthy sentences provoked a strong reaction from international human rights groups. In particular, Amnesty International condemned the convictions, by saying

“Nasser Zefzafi and others who have been convicted and imprisoned for protesting peacefully for social justice or covering demonstrations online should never have been on trial in the first place. He must be released and his conviction overturned.”

Similarly, the members of the European Parliament nominated Zefzafi for the 2018 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought for his fight "against oppression and abuse of power". The prize recognises individuals who have dedicated their lives to the defence of human rights. 

In a recent report Moroccan Association for Human Rights shed light on "the repression of several social movements" and documents that the total number of people detained or on wanted lists because of "critical opinions" or "activities within protest movements" in the Rif and other regions has risen to over 1020. The report covers 2017 and the first half of 2018. AMDH President Ahmed El Haij highlighted the heavy handed approach taken by the government in response of the protests.


Freedom of expression continues to be restricted in Morocco, especially for those expressing sympathy with the Hirak movement. On November 2018, the activist, El Mortada Iamrachen was convicted on charges of promoting terrorism and handed a five-year prison term. His arrest related to a Facebook post in support of the Hirak protests. After being arrested in November 2017, Iamrachen was held for eleven months in solitary detention. Civil society groups condemned the heavy handed sentence, claiming that the activist had done nothing but peacefully express his views online. 

International groups have also highlighted the prosecution of those expressing sympathy with the Hirak movement. Amnesty International called on Moroccan authorities to overturn the conviction of Nawal Benaissa, who has been repeatedly intimidated and harassed. On 15th February 2018, she was sentenced to a 10-month suspended prison term and a fine of 500 dirhams (around $50) on charges of "protesting in an undeclared demonstration", "insulting law enforcement officers” and “incitement to commit” criminal offences. Benaissa was also prosecuted over comments she posted on Facebook between June and August 2017 in support of Hirak protests. Authorities forced her to close down her social media accounts.