Morocco: Drop charges against teachers who peacefully protested over workers' rights

 

Morocco’s authorities must immediately drop the charges against a group of 33 teachers who were arbitrarily arrested for participating in peaceful demonstrations to demand better working conditions, said Amnesty International, ahead of a court session in Rabat on 20 May.

The organization spoke to three protesters who described their ill-treatment at the hands of the police during arrest and while in custody. The teachers are facing a string of charges including taking part in an “unauthorized gathering” on 6 and 7 April, violating “health emergency” law, as well as “harming” and “insulting” law enforcement officers. One is also accused of “offending public officials”.

“Morocco’s authorities must immediately end their crackdown on peaceful teachers’ demonstrations and drop the charges against these protesters. It is outrageous that these teachers are facing prosecution and possible imprisonment simply for voicing their legitimate demands for better working conditions and employment rights,” said Amna Guellali, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

“The Covid-19 pandemic must not be used as a cover to arbitrarily arrest peaceful protesters. By wrongfully prosecuting peaceful demonstrators, Morocco’s authorities are flouting their international obligations to uphold and protect people’s rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”

On 6 and 7 April, police arbitrarily arrested a total of 33 teachers who were protesting peacefully while respecting Covid-19 sanitary measures such as wearing masks and social distancing, in Bab El Hed square in Rabat and forcefully dispersed the demonstrations. The teachers were held in custody for 48 hours before being charged and released. On 20 May, 20 teachers are facing trial at Rabat court. On 27 May a further 13 are facing trial on the same charges.

Souad Brahma a lawyer representing the teachers said the protesters were being prosecuted based on self-incriminating police reports that some of them were coerced into signing.

One of the teachers who did not want to be identified told Amnesty International he was threatened by a police officer who told him to sign the police report if he did not want to "have other problems".

Nezha Majdi, a teacher from Agadir, in southern Morocco was arrested on 6 April. She described how five police officers seized her from a crowd of protesters violently grabbing her by the arms, legs and head.

Photographs reviewed by Amnesty International clearly show bruising on her arms after her arrest.

She was held in custody for 48 hours with 19 other teachers after being transported to four different police stations. Twice, a female police officer stripped her of her clothes and patted her down for up to 15 minutes, ordering her to sit down and to stand up in a humiliating way.

During her five-hour interrogation, she was asked about her role in protests and about comments she made about a police officer who she said sexually assaulted her and threatened her with rape during a protest on 17 March. This led to her prosecution based on "offending" a public official.

Another protester, who asked not to be named, said that he was arrested on 6 April then released only to be re-arrested shortly afterwards. He was then detained for 48 hours with other teachers.

Both protesters told Amnesty International that police officers did not take any measures to protect them from the spread of Covid-19. The police officers did not wear face masks and they were detained for 48 hours in a small cell with 19 other protesters without face masks and unable to socially distance from one another.

They were both charged with "breaking the health emergency statutes" law relating to Covid-19. The prosecutor ordered them to undergo a medical examination after asking if police officers used violence against them. However, when they were summoned to the hospital, they did not find a specialist doctor and refused to undergo a regular medical exam which would not have been comprehensive.

Videos reviewed by Amnesty International show shocking scenes during the arrests of Majdi and other protesters as well as a police officer punching a protester in the face on 6 April.

“Law enforcement officers must respect the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and should refrain from dispersing peaceful protests, not least through using excessive force and arbitrary arrest. They must not subject detainees to degrading treatment such as grabbing protesters by the arms and legs and dragging them to police stations,” said Amna Guellali.

Background

Teachers’ protests in Morocco to demand permanent contracts and better working conditions began in 2019. Police have often unlawfully dispersed protests and used excessive force to do so.

On 5 April 2021, a court in Tinghir sentenced one teacher, Khaled Bouteznika, to a month in prison over a social media post he shared about a teachers’ protest. On 16 and 17 March 2021, at least three teachers were briefly arrested for protesting in Rabat.

In May 2019, Abdellah Hajili, the father of a protester died allegedly from his injuries after suffering a beating during a protest in April 2019.

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