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Morocco – Repression and judicial persecution of defenders

Between late April and early May 2020, several human rights defenders in Morocco have been subjected to preventive detention as a result of their posts on social media, on the issue of human rights and the response by the Moroccan authorities during COVID-19.

– On 5 May 2020, Abdel Fattah Bouchikhi, a member of the National Instance for Human Rights and a blogger focusing primarily on corruption issues, was summoned to Jorf El Melha police station regarding a post he made on social media. In the post he exposed corruption related to the issuing of transport permits, which are necessary for travelling in Morocco during COVID-19. He was interrogated for seven hours without the presence of his lawyer, following which he was placed in preventive detention. He was detained for 48 hours at the police station before being transferred to the public prison, where he remains at the time of writing. In the 48 hours he spent in detention at the police station, he was not given any food. Abdel Fattah Bouchikhi has been charged with defamation and his hearing is scheduled for 21 May 2020.

– On 27 April 2020, Omar Naji, a human rights defender who works on refugee and immigration issues, and is vice-president of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (MAHR) in the Nador city branch was summoned to the Cybercrime police section in Nador city, following a complaint submitted by the Nador city governor regarding a social media post he had made. In the post, Omar Naji defended the economic rights of the street hawkers in the city, following the confiscation of their goods by the police due to COVID-19 restrictions. He was placed under preventive detention for almost 24 hours, before being granted release on a bail of 10000 Dirham (approximately 900 Euros).

– On 5 May 2020, several police officers dressed in plain clothes arrested woman human rights defender Siham El Makrini, whose work is focused on the promotion of women’s rights in Morocco, at her home. She was brought to the police station in Nador city, where she was interrogated for almost two hours without the presence of her lawyer, regarding a post she had made on social media which called for improved economic rights for teachers in Morocco. Siham El Makrini has been charged with ‘incitement’ with regard to her social media post, the hearing for which has not yet been scheduled. On 17 May 2020, Siham El Makrini’s home was raided and vandalised by unknown individuals, which she believes to be connected to the charges against her and her human rights activities. The woman human rights defender has been previously harassed by Moroccan authorities. In 2018, Siham El Makrini was physically attacked by a group of police officers, fracturing her arm.

Morocco is ranked 133 in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index. Morocco’s media continue to be subjected to judicial harassment. In addition to the trials of a number of media figures that have dragged on for several years, several new prosecutions have been initiated and heavy sentences have been passed. Many journalists and citizen-journalists continue to be imprisoned. The elimination of the ministry of communication and the creation of a press council have not helped to make the environment for media and journalists any more peaceful.