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Rights groups call on Morocco to release activists

Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Moroccan Association for Human Rights called today, Wednesday, on the Moroccan authorities to release activists, who ten for criticising the authorities and their policies either by posting on social media or by releasing Rap songs.

A joint statement, issued earlier by the two human rights organisation, indicated that since September 2019, the Moroccan authorities have arrested and tried at least 10 activists, artists, and other civilians "whose only charge was peacefully expressing their opinions via Facebook, YouTube, or in Rap songs," while calling for the immediate release of the detainees and dropping charges against them.

The statement recorded the presence of seven persons as of Wednesday in prison, in light of the ongoing campaign targeting activists. Thus, two of the detainees were sentenced to prison by verdicts issued by the courts of appeal in charge of the cases, while three others were granted provisional release until the date of their trial.

The activists were arrested in different cities after writing blogs or uploading videos on social media platforms to condemn poverty and corruption. In these publications, the targeted activists directed their criticism, insults and accusations to King Mohammed VI.

Read: Morocco arrests woman spreading rumours on coronavirus outbreak in Chinese restaurant

The activists were arrested on charges of "breaching the duty to respect the king", "offending constitutional institutions" and "insulting public officials while they were performing their duties."

Two students have also been arrested since the start of the campaign. The first, 19, was sentenced to four years in prison before being reduced to eight months in the appeal, while the second, 18, was sentenced to three years. Taking into consideration that the latter has already spent a proportion of the sentence (few weeks) in detention, the judiciary decided to grant him provisional release until pursuing his appeal in March.

Ahmed Benchemsi, Advocacy and Communications Director for Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division, stated: "The number of Moroccans who use social media to express bold political opinions, including critics of the king, is at the heart of their right. However, the authorities are responding with a frenzied campaign to re-impose their red lines."

These prosecutions ignited a wave anger among human rights activists in Morocco, while the Moroccan authorities defend the legality of the undertaken procedures, denying "any the deterioration of the human rights situation in Morocco," reported local media earlier quoting a government spokesman, Hassan Abyaba, who called for the necessity to distinguish between "freedom of expression and committing felonies that are punishable by the law."

The arrest of 33-year-old journalist and human rights activist Omar Radi last year on charges "of contempt of the judiciary," following a tweet he wrote at the time, caused widespread criticism among various groups, before the judiciary decided to grant him provisional release until pursuing his appeal in March.



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