Moroccan king pardons thousands, including 'Hirak' protesters

Royal pardons received by 4,764 detainees as the king announces launch of new committee to tackle social inequalities.

    Moroccan King Mohammed VI said progress achieved in the country so far has not made 'sufficient impact' [Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu Agency]
    Moroccan King Mohammed VI said progress achieved in the country so far has not made 'sufficient impact' [Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu Agency]

    Morocco's King Mohammed VI marked 20 years on the throne by pardoning thousands of prisoners, including some from the "Hirak" protest movement that rocked the country in 2016.

    On the eve of the royal anniversary on Tuesday, an official statement announced that 4,764 people were pardoned, including some arrested during the months of protests in the long-marginalised northern Rif region.

    The al-Hirak al-Shaabi, or "Popular Movement", was sparked by the death of a fisherman but soon spiralled into demands for more development and action against corruption and unemployment.

    More than 400 protesters are thought to have been arrested and tried in connection with the demonstrations, but no official figures are available. About 250 were previously pardoned.

    Monday's royal pardon also includes some prisoners convicted of "terrorism" as part of the fourth annual reconciliation programme, according to Morocco World News.

    The programme was launched in 2018 to reintegrate prisoners into society.

    Another 2,477 prisoners had their sentences reduced while 31 detainees had their death penalty sentences commuted to life imprisonment.

    Government reshuffle

    On Monday night, the king also announced the launch, later this year, of a committee charged with creating a new development model to tackle social inequalities, and called for a government reshuffle for "new blood" because the country's development policy is not doing enough to meet citizens' needs.

    The king said he wants "people with a different mentality and officials who are capable of raising performance levels."

    In a speech at his palace in the northern city of Tetouan, the 55-year-old monarch, who succeeded his father Hassan II in 1999, welcomed progress in infrastructure projects and civil liberties in the country, but said the efforts had not had "sufficient impact". 

    The king enumerated some key achievements of his rule, with emphasis on the building of highways, a high-speed railway, ports, renewable energy projects and urban development.

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    "What undermines this positive result is that the effects of the progress and the achievements made has not, unfortunately, been felt by all segments of the Moroccan society," he said.

    The committee will serve as an advisory body to make suggestions to improve reforms in fields such as education, health, agriculture, investment and taxation.

    Special emphasis was also placed on the need to open up the economy to foreign investors and revamp the public sector.

    Such projects and reforms require new leaders in decision-making positions, he said.

    "I ask the head of government to submit to me, after the summer break, proposals to fill executive posts in the government and the civil service with high-level national elites chosen on merit and competence," he said.

    Morocco has largely been insulated from the turmoil that hit North Africa and the Middle East since the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, although it regularly sees protests over economic and social problems.

    The monarchy, under pressure from protesters, in a 2011 constitutional referendum delegated some of its powers to an elected government.

    But the king retains overall authority as head of state, chief of the military, and the country's top Islamic authority, as well as tight control over key sectors of the economy.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies