Rabat- Thousands of people took to the streets of Rabat on Sunday demanding that authorities release the leaders of a protest movement in al-Hoceima and surrounding cities in the Rif region of northern Morocco.
The demonstrators marched along Mohamed VI avenue in downtown Rabat in solidarity with Hoceima chanting “Free the prisoners!” including the movement leader Nasser Zefzafi, who was among the first to be arrested on May 29.
The demonstration in Rabat was one of the largest of its kind in several years.
Banned from formal politics Justice and Charity movement participated in the demonstration, in addition to several parties and the Moroccan Association of Human Rights. Justice and Charity is the only opposition group able to mobilize on a massive scale.
Many protesters held up portraits of Zefzafi, and his father also briefly joined the protest alongside the families of other arrested activists.
Justice and Development Party and Movement for Unification and Reform among other movements and parties were not present at the protests.
Secretary General of Development Party and Movement Abdelilah Benkirane criticized the government for not handling the protests in Rif well.
Demonstrators called for economic and social reforms for the Rif region and demanded the sacking of several governmental officials, in requests reminiscent to the 2011 protests led by the February 20 movement.
Deputy secretary-general of Justice and Charity Fathallah Arsalane said that it is only natural for the organization to participate in the protests because the social problems are aggravating and that people can no longer tolerate injustice.
Arsalane called upon the “sane” people in the government to handle the issue and deal with Rif residents because they are a part of this country and their demands are lawful.
The deputy secretary-general of Justice and Charity told Asharq Al-Awsat that the ball is now in the court of the government, saying it should either meet the demands of the protesters, or the rate of demonstrations will increase.
As long as the people are suffering, they won’t be silenced, he warned.
President of Moroccan Association of Human Rights Ahmed al-Hayej reiterated that it is crucial for all detainees to be released. He also asked the government to reopen dialogue channels with leaders of the movement.
Hayej told Asharq Al-Awsat that the protests would be seen as fruitful only if the authorities respond to the demands of demonstrators.
He did, however, declare that solidarity with Rif would grow stronger if there was no change to the status quo and if more people continued to be arrested.