Moroccan protest leader Nasser Zefzafi has apparently sewn his lips together after a Casablanca court upheld his 20-year prison sentence for leading demonstrations in the northern Rif region in late 2016 and 2017, AFP has reported. "Nasser has chosen this way of protesting to express his attachment to his freedom and to denounce reinforced security control [in prison]," said his father Ahmed.
In response to the protest leader's show of defiance, fellow Moroccans took to social media to post pictures of themselves with tape over their mouths in solidarity.
Since the leader of the #Rifian movement Nasser Zefzafi sewed his lips to protest at the unjust condemnations of Rifian activists by a court of Moroccan occupation, The Rifians answered by the closing-mouth campaign.#Rifrepublic #Hirak #Rif pic.twitter.com/Ou3QCYgksZ
— Yuba El ghadioui (@YGhadioui) April 10, 2019
Mohammed Al-Haki, who was sentenced alongside Zefzafi and two other men last week, has also sewn his lips together, according to the activists' lawyer. The men were convicted of threatening state security, after taking part in demonstrations in the predominantly Amazigh (Berber) town of Al-Hoceima in protest at economic and social problems. The Al-Hirak Al-Shaabi — "Popular Movement" — protests erupted after a fisherman was crushed to death inside a rubbish truck while trying to recover fish confiscated by the authorities in October 2016.
The Al-Hoceima demonstrations, along with protests in the mining town of Jerada early last year, marked the biggest unrest in Morocco since protests in 2011 prompted King Mohammed VI to devolve some of his powers to an elected parliament.
Last June, a first instance verdict sentenced three other Al-Hoceima protesters — Nabil Ahamjik, Ouassim Boustati and Samir Ighid — to 20 years in prison. Another 35 activists were jailed for between two and 15 years and one received a one-year suspended sentence.
On Friday, as part of the same verdict, local journalist Hamid El Mahdaoui, who covered the protests, saw his three-year sentence confirmed. His sister Nadia expressed her grief at the verdict, voicing hope to see her brother acquitted at the Court of Cassation.
Rabat has accused the protesters of being separatists, despite the list of demands made by the demonstrators encompassing only socio-economic issues, including requesting the construction of a regional cancer hospital, university, library, theatre and roads.
In a recent report, Amnesty International, which had campaigned for the protesters' convictions to be overturned, condemned the human rights situation in Morocco, citing how journalists and protesters calling for social justice and political rights are regularly imprisoned, often following unfair trials relying heavily on forced confessions. Many detainees also experience torture in prison, it is alleged, without adequate investigations from the authorities.
The Moroccan authorities, however, slammed the Amnesty report, claiming that it was based on false information and that the country only arrested those accused of serious offences, including "incitement of terrorism, rape and other crimes". They denied imprisoning peaceful protesters, despite the plight of Rif activists gaining widespread international support.