Geneva – Targeting human rights activists and dissidents, at times with physical assaults that sometimes lead to death, has been on the rise in Morocco, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said in a statement.
Moroccan activists said they were subjected to harassment, threats, and physical assaults, apparently in relation to their human rights activism and continuous criticism of official policies.
During the past several months, the authorities have escalated their campaign against opinion leaders in the kingdom and issued harsh prison sentences—up to 15 years. The authorities have also been ignoring organized campaigns of incitement and hatred against journalists and opposition activists.
Activist Youssef El-Herish from the city of Kenitra was subjected to what appears to be an assassination attempt on Monday. Two people attacked him near his house and hit him in the head with a sharp object, causing him a large cross-sectional wound that resulted in external bleeding.
El-Herish said on Facebook: "I was subjected to an assassination attempt 30 meters away from our house. They were waiting for me to get out of the house. Two persons, one with a sword and one with a baton. They were trying to kill me. They waited for me to get 30 meters away from my house, in a neighborhood that was almost empty of pedestrians. But God was watching for me."
El-Herish is known for defending the rights of prisoners of conscience in Moroccan prisons, and he constantly criticizes official laws and policies on Facebook, especially those related to freedom of opinion, expression, and publication.
On the same day, a Canadian human rights defender of Moroccan origin, Mohamed Barhoun, was subjected to a physical assault by a Moroccan security officer while he was in Rabat to visit his family. He was threatened with death and kidnapping.
Barhoun said on Facebook: "Today in Rabat, I was subjected to a strong physical attack by a security member affiliated with the Directorate General of Territorial Surveillance (DST). The attack included death and kidnapping threats. Tomorrow I will file an official complaint to the security services in Rabat. I hold the Moroccan authorities responsible for my safety. A copy of the complaint will also be sent to the Canadian authorities."
Such arbitrary policies against opposition activists provide a fertile environment for more dangerous attacks, which are usually preceded by extensive electronic campaigns of incitement launched by affiliates of the Moroccan authorities.
During the past two months, Moroccan courts issued varying sentences (ranging from several months to 15 years) against a number of journalists and opposition activists, including activists Saida Alami and Rabih Al-Ablaq, and journalists Tawfiq Bouachrine, Omar Radi, Imad Estito, and Suleiman Raissouni, on a retributive background, and after trials marred by clear legal violations.
The Moroccan authorities should:
- protect opposition activists from any physical assault or organized smear campaigns that aim to undermine them;
- confront any threat they may face against the background of their peaceful activity;
- open an immediate and transparent investigation into the attacks on El-Herish and Barhoun, identify those involved, and bring them to justice;
- confront all attempts that may lead to compromising the safety and security of opposition activists and opinion-holders in the country;
- review their arbitrary approach towards activists and peaceful dissidents; and
- release all those detained for opinion, expression, and peaceful assembly, and stop using the judiciary to punish and criminalize anyone who criticizes the Kingdom's internal and external policies.