Morocco jails activist for 12 years: rights group

People take part in a demonstration called by the February 20 protest movement in Rabat in August 2012. By Abdelhak Senna (AFP/File)

People take part in a demonstration called by the February 20 protest movement in Rabat in August 2012. By Abdelhak Senna (AFP/File)

AFP – A Moroccan court has jailed an activist with the February 20 protest movement for 12 years for taking part in an unauthorised demonstration, a human rights group said on Tuesday, slamming the ruling as an act of vengeance.

The charges against Bashir Benshaib, 32, who was sentenced by an appeals court in Al-Hoceima on Monday, included blocking a road, theft, aggression and drug dealing, Faisal Ousser of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH) told AFP.

Benshaib had initially been tried in March this year, the month he was arrested, and handed a five year jail term, with another five year suspended sentence, for organising the unauthorised protest near Al-Hoceima in northern Morocco.

“We were very surprised by the severity of this revenge ruling, and by the use of the judiciary to punish young people asking for dignity,” said Ousser, who attended Monday’s trial.

“This government and the justice minister have clearly demonstrated that they have no respect for human rights, not even the simple right to protest,” he added.

Justice Minister Mustapha Ramid said he was unable to comment on the latest court ruling, when contacted by AFP, because he did not know the details of the case.

Since early last year, Morocco has witnessed sporadic social unrest, spearheaded by the February 20 protest movement demanding action on a wide range of social grievances and calling in particular for an end to corruption.

Increasingly, the group has also called for the release of fellow activists, 20 of whom have been jailed in Al-Hoceima alone, amid concerns by UN officials and rights groups about the fairness of the trials and the treatment of political detainees.

At their most recent protest, on September 23, hundreds of February 20 activists marched in Rabat to demand the prosecution of officials linked to corruption, instead of the “vengeance trials” of activists.

Earlier this month, up to a thousand magistrates held a sit-in outside the Court of Cassation in the capital calling for an end to corruption in the judicial system.

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