Morocco's King Mohammed VI has issued a royal pardon for several members of the Hirak Rif Movement as part of the commemorations for the country's annual Throne Day today. Hundreds of other detainees and prisoners are also being released.
The popular movement erupted in protests in Morocco's northern Rif region in 2016, following the death of fishmonger Mohcine Fikri who was crushed in a garbage truck while trying to retrieve his produce which had been confiscated by police.
The protests spread and resulted in violent clashes between security forces and protestors. The authorities arrested its prominent members and leaders in Al-Hoceima province in 2017. Fifty-three Hirak Rif members were charged and imprisoned, with sentences ranging from one to 20 years.
Among the prominent members who are now being pardoned and released are Mohamed El-Mejjaoui – nicknamed "Al-Hakim" (The wise) – and political activist Nasser Zefzafi, who reportedly sewed his lips together in protest against his charges last year. The royal pardon was announced yesterday, and covers the release of a total of 1,446 detainees.
Human rights organisations have been calling for the release of political detainees and "prisoners of conscience" in Morocco for years. UK-based Human Right Watch called on the Moroccan authorities to release activists in February.
There is usually a better chance of detainees and prisoners being released on religious celebrations such as Eid and national celebrations such as Throne Day. With Eid Al-Adha and Throne Day occurring on consecutive days this week, the pardon is unsurprising despite the longer sentences of some of those released.