Moroccan court upholds prison sentences against Hirak protesters

Appeals court confirms prison sentence of activists linked to northern Morocco's Hirak movement.

    The initial protests erupted after a fishmonger was crushed inside a rubbish truck while trying to recover fish confiscated by authorities [File: STR/EPA]
    The initial protests erupted after a fishmonger was crushed inside a rubbish truck while trying to recover fish confiscated by authorities [File: STR/EPA]

    A Casablanca appeals court has upheld prison sentences of up to 20 years for dozens of activists linked to the Hirak protest movement that rocked northern Morocco's Rif region in late 2016.

    The ruling on Friday against 42 protesters was met with cries of "corrupt state" from the relatives of defendants. 

    The leader of the Al-Hirak al-Shaabi, or "Popular Movement", Nasser Zefzafi and three other men saw their 20-year prison sentences confirmed for threatening the security of the state.

    Zefzafi, 39, was arrested in May 2017 after organising demonstrations in his predominantly Amazigh hometown of Al Hoceima over economic and social problems.

    181116121236678

    "There is no hope … this trial has been unfair since the start and that is how it has ended," said defence lawyer Souad Brahma.

    State lawyer Mohamed Al Houssaini Karout however said the court confirmed the verdict "as there was nothing new to look at after the defendants and their lawyers abstained from attending the hearings."

    The court was "clement" in sentencing Zefzafi to 20 years in jail because he was tried on charges punishable with up to 30 years, he said.

    Other sentences also confirmed on appeal ranged from one to 15 years. Eleven others were pardoned last year by King Mohammed VI of Morocco.

    Journalist Hamid el Mahdaoui was sentenced to three years for failing to tell police he had been offered weapons during the protests - what he called an "imaginary crime".

    "It's an injustice," his wife told AFP news agency.

    170604092533766

    The mainly ethnically Berber Rif region has long had a tense relationship with Morocco's central authorities and was at the heart of Arab Spring-inspired protests in 2011.

    The main protests subsided following a series of political reforms, including constitutional changes that saw King Mohammed VI give up some of his wide-ranging powers.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies