Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused Moroccan authorities of using excessive force against protesters in the eastern city of Jerada, following months of demonstrations over economic hardship.
The rights group denounced the indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force in a new report released on Monday after a series of protests that began after two brothers accidentally died inside a coal pit they were mining illegally in December 2017.
“The repression in Jerada has gone well beyond an effort to bring allegedly violent protests to justice,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
“It looks like it is about suppressing the right to peaceful protest social and economic conditions.”
Heavily reliant on the region’s mining industry, the city of Jerada was economically ravaged in 1998 by the closure of its mines.
While formally closed, the mines continued to form an important source of revenue for many of Jerada’s residents.
On March 13, the government issued a warning that it had the authority to prevent “illegal demonstrations in public.”
A crowd of demonstrators gathered in a nearby forest the following day where some protesters threw rocks at members of the police force.
“While some protesters threw stones on March 14 and authorities claim they also committed acts of arson, this would not justify the use of indiscriminate and excessive force, or the arrests that began before that date,” HRW said.
“It would also not justify the suppression of peaceful protests or the alleged mistreatment of detainees,” it said.
A video filmed on March 14 and authenticated by the rights group shows at least four police cars driving dangerously close to protesters as they attempted to disperse the crowd.
One boy, identified as 16-year-old Abdelmoula Zaiqer, was severely injured after reportedly being run over by a vehicle belonging to security forces.
Zaiqer suffered trauma to the head, hips, feet and vertebrae, according to a medical report obtained by the rights group. His mother, Najat Mejdaoui said doctors are uncertain whether Zaiqer will ever be able to walk again.
The NGO said that 69 protesters were arrested since May 31, including three minors who were in pre-trial detention or prison.
According to the government’s Inter-ministerial Delegation for Human Rights (DIDH by its French acronym), six police cars were burned and 280 security personnel were injured during the clashes, a number the local branch of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights described as “very exaggerated”.
Earlier on Monday, two miners died in a rockfall in an abandoned Moroccan lead mine in Jerada, Morocco‘s official MAP news agency said.
“Two people, aged 33 and 42, died on Sunday after a lead gallery partially collapsed in the commune of Sidi Boubker in the province of Jerada,” it said.
One died at the scene and the other was taken to hospital in the northeastern city of Oujda where he succumbed to his injuries, it added.
Rabat has said it will bar access to the abandoned sites and pledged to increase its support and provide alternative jobs in the area.