Thursday, 2 November 2017

Families of jailed protesters face long road

A 1,200-kilometre (750 mile) round bus trip taking about 22 hours: that is the weekly grind faced by families of activists arrested over a protest movement in northern Morocco if they want to see their loved ones jailed in Casablanca.
"The families of those detained are exhausted, every week it's the same ordeal," complained Rachid Ahbbad, as he visited his 19-year-old son Bilal who was jailed in June.

"Why do they make us go through this suffering?"

The Rif region of northern Morocco, a predominantly Berber area, was gripped earlier this year by months of angry demonstrations calling for jobs, development and an end to corruption in the North African kingdom.

Originally sparked by the death of a fisherman crushed in a rubbish truck as he tried to salvage his confiscated catch, the demonstrations snowballed from grievances over local poverty into a major challenge to the authorities.

In response, security forces launched a crackdown, slinging the alleged leaders of the mainly young protesters in jail in May and June.

"Our youths took to the streets because of legitimate complaints. The protests were peaceful but they were accused of being separatists," said Ahbbad.

'Major injustice'
After 49 of those behind bars were transferred to Casablanca in western Morocco, their relatives have been forced to make the punishing journey to see them during the two hours of visiting time allowed each Wednesday.

On Tuesday evenings, a bus laid on by the National Council for Human Rights, an official organisation, sets off on the road from the Rif region's main town Al-Hoceima towards Casablanca, stopping to pick up passengers along the way.

The political crackdown on the protesters has attracted the attention of rights activists and sparked a sit-down protest in front of the Oukacha prison, Morocco's largest, in solidarity with the visiting relatives.

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