Moroccan King Mohammed VI has instructed security forces to withdraw from the northern cities of Al Hoceima and Imzouren after violent clashes erupted between police and protesters in the region.
“Following royal directives, the law enforcement officers have withdrawn,” Al Hoceima’s new governor, Farid Chourak, said at a press conference on Monday.
He added that if the protesters reacted positively to this initiative, the authorities “will offer other initiatives”.
“Confidence and security are linked … we reach a normal atmosphere, where everyone can exercise his public freedoms and fulfill his demands in a civilised and institutional way,” he added.
“In a normal environment, the state will also be able to exercise its powers to establish security,” he said.
Protests resumed in Morocco after heavy handed response by government
Popular protests resumed late June in the northern city of Al-Hoceima – and in several other Moroccan cities as two prominent human rights groups criticized the government’s heavy-handed response to the demonstrations.
“Police arrested and severely beat the de facto leader of ongoing social protests in Morocco’s Rif region… based on an account the protest leader gave his lawyer,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International both said in a joint statement.
“Authorities are investigating Nasser Zefzafi, the protest leader, on grave charges, including one that carries the death penalty and some that appear political in nature,” the statement read.
“Moroccan authorities should investigate the credible allegations of police violence against Zefzafi and refrain from filing any charges that stem from peaceful speech or protest,” the statement quoted Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East and North Africa director, as saying.
She added: “At this stage, the case looks like it’s more about throwing the book at a protest leader than punishing criminal behavior.”
The same statement quoted Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s North Africa research director, as saying that, along with Zefzafi, “many other Rif protesters and activists have reported police brutality following arrest”.
For the last nine months, Al-Hoceima — located in Morocco’s northern Al-Rif region — has been roiled by protests by local youth demanding job opportunities and an end of perceived government corruption.
Demonstrations were initially sparked last October when a fisherman was crushed to death by a garbage truck in Al-Hoceima while protesting attempts by the local authorities to confiscate his fish.