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HRW condemns Morocco’s obstruction of rights groups

February 20, 2017 at 2:43 pm

Morocco’s largest independent human rights organisation has had their activities obstructed and prohibited for two years by Moroccan authorities, a report by Human Rights Watch revealed today.

The harassment of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH) has continued despite four administrative appeals in court ruling in favour of the organisation.

Founded in 1979, the AMDH is currently Morocco’s largest independent human rights advocacy organisation holding 96 local branches.

According to AMDH, authorities have blocked 125 of its meetings, conferences, and have prohibited directly and indirectly public and private events since July 2014.

In only seven of the 125 cases did authorities provide a written notice that their planned events were prohibited, the AMDH said. Amongst the meetings and events planned were to discuss topics like workers’ rights, women’s rights, and Morocco’s human rights situation.

“The widespread and consistent nature of the measures against the AMDH is a clear indication of a campaign ordered from above to weaken an outspoken and nationwide voice on human rights,” Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, Sarah Leah Whitson, said.

According to the group, authorities have also prevented them from registering 47 local branches by not filing the relevant documents which they are required to legally submit. The authorities must issue a receipt once the documents are filed but they have failed to do so which prevents the group  from essential operations like access to a bank account or making withdrawals, AMDH Director for International Relations, Abdelkhalek Benzekri, explained.

The organisation has sued the government over its refusal to issue receipts and in 2015, the Administrative Appeals Court ruled in AMDH’s favour over the government’s failure to provide receipts. The administrative court then ruled in 2016 that refusing to issue the receipts to AMDH violated the law.

Locked out

In cases where AMDH were planning to hold public events in certain venues they would find that the owners had been forced to cancel it following pressure from the government. In other instances, the group’s members arrived to find the doors padlocked with no warning that they were blocked.

As a result the group have been forced to relocate its meetings to its own offices or premises of friendly organisations, according to AMDH Administrative Director Youssef Raissouni.

According to Morocco’s 1958 Law on Public Assemblies, organisers of public meetings are expected to notify the authorities in advance. However, Article 3 of the law exempts organisations from notifying if those “associations and groups that are legally recognised whose purposes are specifically cultural, artistic, athletic, as well as the meetings of associations and entities providing first aid or charity.”

As a matter of policy, neither the AMDH’s central bureau in Rabat nor its local branches have notified the authorities in advance of their public or internal events because it has considered itself exempt from doing so under article 3, Benzekri told HRW.

However since the government’s regular blocking of its events, AMDH has been notifying authorities more regularly of its upcoming public and internal events.

“The Rabat Administrative Court has now issued several rulings in favour of the AMDH,” Whitson said. “The government should comply with the courts’ rulings, allowing the AMDH once again to organise meetings and events freely.”

AMDH is not the only one to have experienced harassment.  Imposed restrictions on other domestic and regional rights groups have also been a common occurrence with the Moroccan government.

According to Khadija Ryadi, President of the Coordination for Maghreb Human Rights Organisations (CMODH) authorities refused to let the CMODH file the required documents relating to its recent internal elections. Subsequently, the Rabat Administrative Court ordered the government to accept the filing of CMODH in October 2016 but little has been done to alleviate the pressure since.

Two Amnesty International researchers were also expelled from the country by the government in June 2015 and the group has had none of its research requests approved since. In September 2015, Human Rights Watch researchers were also banned from conducting research missions in Morocco and the Western Sahara.