Moroccan rights groups move to challenge repressive police

The violent dispersal of protests last month, and rights groups' demands for a judicial inquiry, suggests politics in Morocco may be shifting into uncharted territory.

Human rights groups have demanded a judicial investigation into why Moroccan police violently broke up a protest last month, in a unusually defiant move against the country’s increasingly repressive security forces.

A total of 22 rights groups and other NGOs have joined together in the request against Interior Minister Mohand Laenser and other police officials Few expect it to go anywhere, but activists say merely filing the complaint is an important step against impunity in the northwest African nation.

“We are not in a democratic country where all citizens are equal before the law. There are people for whom the laws are applied and other people who are never prosecuted,” says Khadija Ryadi, the coordinator of the coalition and former president of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights.

But, she says, “If things don’t move forward, we will exert pressure for justice to do its work and denounce the instrumentalization of justice by the state.

The protest in Aug. 2 in the country’s political capital Rabat was sparked by outrage over a pardon granted by King Mohammed VI to Daniel Galvan, a Spanish man who had been sentenced 30 years in a Moroccan prison for the rape of 11 children.

Dozens of people, including several journalists, were injured when police violently broke up the demonstration. Similar protests in other cities were also violently broken up.

It was a rare public display of opposition to King Mohammed, who remains popular for most Moroccans.

Galvan had been convicted of the rapes in September 2011. The royal pardon, issued in July after a visit to the country by Spain’s king, was one of 48 granted to Spanish citizens convicted in Moroccan courts.  After the royal pardon, Galvan left Morocco for Spain. King Mohammed later rescinded his pardon; the royal palace saying the king had been unaware of the nature of Galvan's crimes and has ordered a probe into his release. A Spanish judge later ordered him jailed in response to an international arrest warrant.

Rights groups want to know who ordered police to violently break up the protests. Six weeks after the demand was submitted, however, judicial authorities have yet to respond, though the Interior Ministry has insisted it didn’t issue any order for the dispersal. Justice Minister Mustapha Ramid has said his department would launch also an investigation. Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry has said it launched a separate investigation into the police crackdown..

Officials at the Interior Ministry refused requests for comment from the Monitor.

Morocco’s government has grown more repressive and human rights groups have grown bolder in their political demands, particularly in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings. In 2007, a top-ranking security official was sued by the Association of Human Rights for breaking up another protest, but the court declined to hear the case.

Authorities have said that police intervention is justified because the protests are unauthorized, though according to Moroccan law no previous authorization is required for a sit-in and the new constitution, adopted in 2011, guarantees the right to protest peacefully.

Younes Bensaid, an activist of the pro-democracy February 20 Movement, said he was slapped and insulted by a police officer at the Aug. 2 demonstration. He says the authorities wanted to do more than just disperse the protestors.

“The goal was to intimidate those who wanted to protest in other cities, to scare those protestors who are not activists who went out that day,” he says. “It was clear from the way they were beaten up.”

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