Morocco: Authorities should stop using excessive force against protesters in Jerada
Moroccan security forces must stop using excessive force and intimidating peaceful protesters, Amnesty International said today, after five police trucks drove into a crowd of protestors on 14 March, injuring dozens in the northern city of Jerada.
“The authorities must allow peaceful protest by prioritising the safety of protesters. People should be free to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and security forces should never be allowed to use excessive force against protesters. ” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“These protests are happening in response to genuine economic hardship. The role of the police should be to protect the citizens and calm this tense situation not further inflame it. The fact that a protest was not explicitly authorized is not a justification for the use of excessive force.”
On 13 March the Minister of Interior issued a ban on unauthorised protests in the city of Jerada. This was in response to repeated calls on social media to protest after the death of two brothers in a coal mine three months earlier.
The following morning, dozens of protesters organised a sit-in near the coal mines of Youssef Village. They were joined around three hours later by members of their families, increasing the number of protesters to at least one hundred.
Two eye-witnesses told Amnesty International that security forces had been present since the sit-in began at around 10 am. At around 1pm, suddenly and without warning, they began to violently disperse the protest. Among them were many women who were beaten. This lead to a confrontation between protesters and security forces which escalated to protesters throwing stones and other acts of violence. Around 64 people have been injured and at least 8 people arrested.
A member from the Moroccan association for human rights (AMDH) who is also local Jerada resident told Amnesty International: "I was there when the security forces launched their attacks. What happened on the 14 March was a long planned reprisal on Jerada protests which were always peaceful.”
Two AMDH members told Amnesty International that at around 6.30 pm, five police trucks drove into the crowd for 15 minutes, running over at least one individual. A video posted on YouTube on 14t March which has been verified by Amnesty International shows the trucks running into the crowd which includes women and children.
A 14-year-old child was crushed before being transferred to al-Oujda hospital. Access to the hospital has since been banned.
Aziz Ait Abbou, one of the leaders of the movement who did not take part in the 14March demonstrations told Amnesty International:
"The authorities made serious and concrete promises during our negotiations in February. We need to give them the necessary time to put those measures in place. Still, I deeply regret the security approach that has been adopted. Jerada needs a social approach; this is the only way to avoid violence and have a win-win situation. A first step would be to free the protesters who have been detained because of their peaceful protests."
On 15 March, the presence of security forces in Jerada was intensified. The AMDH member said that the majority of Jerada workers are now on strike. Peaceful protests have also taken place in the neighbourhoods of Ouled Amar, El Massira and El Manar.
The Ministry of Interior decision is justified by articles 11, 12 and 13 of Royal Decree (Dahir) No. 377.58.1 issued on the 15th of November 1958 on public gatherings which prohibits unauthorized protests on public spaces.
The city of Jerada was economically devastated by the closure of its mine in 1998. It has since been the epicentre of social protests since the death of Houcine and Jedouane, two brothers, in a coal mine on 22 December 2017. Since then, socioeconomic protests have taken place calling for justice and the right to work in particular, similar to demands of the Hirak movement.
According to international standards, police may only use force when strictly necessary and proportionate, and in a manner designed to minimize damage or injury.