Morocco quashes jail protest with force: activists

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Moroccan authorities used tear gas and truncheons to put down a prison protest by accused Islamists who climbed on a roof demanding pardon or review of their cases, human rights activists said.

Around 324 people took part in the protest at Zaki prison in Sale, northeast of the capital Rabat. At least 30 were injured including one who fell from the roof, said Reda Binothmane, a member of a coordination committee for ex-Islamist detainees.

The prisoners’ grievances include detailed allegations of torture and arbitrary treatment. The government says it treats detainees in strict accordance with the law, Reuters reports.
“They want the government to deliver on its promise to review the trials or to free them,” said Binothmane, adding that he contacted prisoners on their cell phones during the day.

The mutiny began when members of the Islamist Salafist Jihad group demanding release or review of their cases took five prison guards hostage, said a senior security official.

Eight security officers were injured in the mutiny, he said. He gave no numbers of prisoners either involved or injured.
“The situation in Zaki prison had for a long time been out of control. The Islamists were runnng the place. It had to be brought to an end, especially because they had totally fair trials,” the official told Reuters.

CRACKDOWN ON MILITANTS

At least 324 people accused of belonging to an Islamic militant group are detained at Zaki. Some were detained after a suicide bomb attack in Casablanca in 2003 that killed 33 people.

Others were detained in a years-long crackdown on what authorities said were militant cells plotting in the North African country. A bomb attack on a cafe in Marrakesh on April 28 killed 17 people including eight French nationals.

Mass demands for democratic reform in Morocco this year, linked to uprisings elsewhere in the Arab Spring movement, led to the release of about 100 political prisoners in April under a pardon issued by King Mohammed.

The majority of those freed or whose sentences were reduced were members of the Salafist Jihad group.

A Reuters witness saw men on the roof of the prison building raising a V for victory sign. At one point tear gas canisters were fired and gas wafted onto the street. Dozens of security force vehicles and two water cannon trucks stood outside.
“They (authorities) have been using tear gas for more than four hours now,” Mohamed Haqiqi, chairman of the Karama human rights forum, told Reuters.



Relatives protesting outside the prison said authorities concocted charges against anyone who looked like a militant.
“We are Muslims. Why don’t you kill us,” read one sarcastic placard held by a female protester veiled in black.