Casablanca protests in solidarity with jailed Rif activists
Hundreds of people from around Morocco protested on Sunday in the kingdom’s financial capital, Casablanca, to demand freedom for activists jailed for their roles in a protest movement that began a year ago in a neglected Berber city.
The demonstration was the latest of numerous protests demanding the liberation of activists from the city of al-Hoceima, in the northern Rif region where hundreds of protesters have been arrested.
Leading figures in the opposition movement known as al-Hirak al-Shaabi will go on trial on 17 October in Casablanca.
No trial date has been set for the movement's leader, Nasser Zefzafi - arrested in June after a dramatic manhunt against opposition figures.
An appeals court will decide this month whether a charge of attacking state security, which carries a risk of capital punishment, is maintained. The death sentence hasn't been carried out in Morocco in decades.
Around a thousand protesters - led by organisers perched on a pickup truck with megaphones - gathered at a main Casablanca intersection on Sunday, chanting various slogans, including "freedom, dignity, social justice".
"We are here to say, 'Enough,'" said Nabila Mounib, the president of the Federation of the Democratic Left. His federation of left-wing parties has rallied to the cause.
"Release the detainees and open a debate on their demands, and above all fight the corruption that gangrenes the Rif region," Mounib said.
The protests in the Berber-dominated Rif region can be traced back to October 2016 when Mouhcine Fikri, a fishmonger in al-Hoceima tried to prevent government-backed city authorities from destroying his merchandise - swordfish - that were banned during the season.
The 31-year-old was crushed as he was run over by a rubbish truck while protesting. A photo of him circulated on social networks, showing him dead, his head and his arm surpassing the compacting mechanism.
The Rif region began to instigate calls for justice for Fikri, in a movement which quickly evolved into grassroots calls demanding jobs and economic development.
Nasser Zefzafi soon emerged as the leader of the al-Hirak al-Shaabi, or the "Popular Movement".
Since Zefzafi's arrest, two women, Nawal Ben Aissa and Cilia Ziani, have emerged as leaders of the al-Hirak movement.