Morocco silencing dissent


Morocco is increasingly using detention to stop political dissent on social media, a committee of local rights activists said, citing a wave of arrests and trials in recent months.

Courts sentenced a dozen individuals to prison terms of up to four years on charges including insulting constitutional institutions or public servants and inciting protests, it said in a statement.

People arrested include journalists, activists, a rap star and two high school students, the committee said.

“Trials are vindictive and use the judiciary to settle political scores with critics and opponents who expres bold opinions to uncover aspects of corruption,” the statement said.

The committee was formed in response to the arrest of Omar Radi, a journalist and activist, last month for a Tweet criticising a judge who imprisoned protesters. His trial is scheduled for March.

A spokesman for government, Hassan Abyaba, said there was no campaign against free speech and police and courts were implementing national laws.

“Any citizen who commits a felony will be punished by the law,” he said at a weekly news conference.

Protests over economic and social problems are common and there were widespread demonstrations in the northern Rif region in 2016 and 2017, and in mining town Jerrada.

One trend the committee noted was more common use of the penal code in trying free speech cases instead of the more lenient publishing code, which has had no provision for imprisonment since a reform in 2016.

“State repression remains the same despite reforms,” said Ahmed Benchemsi of Human Rights Watch, not part of the committee.

The day Radi was arrested, Mohamed Sekkaki, who has a popular following on YouTube, was sentenced to four years on charges including insulting the king.

Last month, an appeals court upheld suspended prison sentences for four journalists investigating pension funds.

In November, rapper Mohamed Mounir, known as Gnawi, was imprisoned for a year for insulting police in a video on social media.