RABAT – Thousands of people demonstrated Sunday in the Moroccan capital Rabat, calling for the release of dozens of activists jailed for up to 20 years over their role in a protest movement.
“The people want the release of the detainees” demonstrators shouted as they marched behind a banner supporting activists linked to the Hirak movement.
Earlier this month a court upheld the ruling against 42 people linked to the Al-Hirak al-Shaabi — or “Popular Movement” — protests, which took hold of the marginalized Rif region in October 2016.
The rally, dubbed the “march of the Moroccan people: stop political injustice,” was organized by detainees’ families along with political and rights groups.
AFP reporters saw thousands of people in the streets, some clutching photographs of those serving jail terms ranging from one to 20 years.
“We call for an end to political arrests and for the release of all detainees (linked to) social movements and a response to their legitimate demands,” said activist Boubaker al-Jawhari.
The sentences first handed down last June were upheld on April 6 by the Casablanca court of appeal, sparking criticism from rights groups.
Moroccan authorities insist the judicial process has followed international standards.
Social unrest in the Rif region was sparked by the death of a fisherman and escalated into a wave of protests demanding more development, and against corruption and unemployment.
The movement’s leader Nasser Zefzafi and three others received prison terms of 20 years for threatening the security of the state.
Prison authorities say the activists were moved on April 11 from Casablanca to a facility in northern Morocco to be “close to their families.
“They were transferred to the worst prisons in the kingdom” and “started a hunger strike,” said Ahmed Zefzafi, father of Nasser.
Addressing a press conference after the Sunday demonstration, he called on “decision-makers to find a way out of this crisis.
Prison authorities said Friday the detainees’ health was being very closely monitored.
Other family members confirmed that their detained relatives are protesting against the conditions they are being held in.
Beyond the 20-year sentences, other prison terms confirmed on appeal ranged from one to 15 years.
Eleven others were pardoned last year by King Mohammed VI.