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Morocco upholds sentences against Hirak protesters

The movement’s leader Nasser Zefzafi and three others received prison terms of 20 years for threatening the security of the state

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Supporters of Morocco's al-Hirak al-Shaabi movement hold placards and shout slogans calling for the release of the movement's members outside the Casablanca Court of Appeals during their trial on April 5, 2019. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

Dozens of activists linked to the Hirak protest movement that rocked northern Morocco in 2016 and 2017 had prison sentences of up to 20 years upheld by a court of appeal on Friday.

The ruling against the 42 protesters in the western city of Casablanca was met with cries of “corrupt state” from relatives.

The Al-Hirak al-Shaabi, or “Popular Movement”, protests took hold in the country’s marginalised Rif region in October 2016.

The social unrest was sparked by the death of a fisherman and escalated into a wave of demonstrations demanding more development in the neglected region and railing against corruption and unemployment.

Authorities accused the activists of having separatist aims. 

The sentences were first handed down in June last year, prompting further demonstrations calling for the group’s release, backed by human rights organisation such as Amnesty and Human Rights Watch.

“There is no hope… this trial has been unfair since the start and that is how it has ended,” said defence lawyer Souad Brahma.

The movement’s leader Nasser Zefzafi and three others received prison terms of 20 years for threatening the security of the state.

Other sentences also confirmed on appeal ranged from one to 15 years. Eleven others were pardoned last year by King Mohammed VI.

Journalist Hamid el Mahdaoui was sentenced to three years for failing to tell police he had been offered weapons during the protests — what he called an “imaginary crime”.

“It’s an injustice,” his wife told AFP.

Zefzafi, 39, emerged as the face of the movement as a result of his rallying speeches, accusing the authorities of corruption.  

Amnesty International has said the activist was held in solitary confinement and subjected to “conditions tantamount to torture”.

He boycotted the appeal proceedings along with 37 other defendants, after denouncing the first case as a “political trial”.

In response to criticism, the Moroccan authorities have insisted the judicial process has followed international standards.  

The 2016 and 2017 protests led to clashes between police and demonstrators, leaving people injured on both sides.

More than 600 security forces personnel were wounded and seven million dirhams ($730,000) of damage caused, according to Moroccan authorities.

Around 450 people were arrested.

“It’s the politics of fear, that has been operating for some time already, telling everyone who has demands that it’s better to stay quiet,” said left-wing politician Nabila Mounib of Friday’s ruling. 

Defence lawyer Mohamed Aghennaj suggested the defendants could appeal the decision. 

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East Africa Politics News & Stories

Bashir to face corruption charges in court next week

The prosecutor general said that Bashir had been charged over the killings of protesters during those anti-regime demonstrations

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Ousted Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir will appear in court next week to face charges of corruption and possessing foreign currency, the country’s acting prosecutor general told reporters on Saturday.

The announcement came more than two months after the military overthrew Bashir on April 11 following months of nationwide protests against his 30-year iron-fisted rule.

Bashir “will appear in court next week following charges of corruption and possessing foreign currency,” Al-Waleed Sayyed Ahmed said, without specifying the day.

He added that the investigation launched against Bashir for the charges had been completed.

On Thursday, an unnamed Sudanese official was quoted by the official SUNA news agency as saying Bashir was facing charges including “possessing foreign funds, acquiring suspected and illegal wealth and ordering (the state of) emergency”.

In April, Sudan’s army ruler General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan said that more than $113 million worth of cash in three currencies had been seized from Bashir’s residence.

He said a team of police, army and security agents found seven million euros, $350,000 and five billion Sudanese pounds. 

Bashir swept to power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989. 

Sudan suffered high rates of corruption during his rule, ranking 172 out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Last month, Ahmed ordered Bashir questioned over money-laundering and “financing terrorism”.

In an effort to quell protests that erupted against his rule in December, Bashir imposed a nationwide state of emergency on February 22.

In May, the prosecutor general said that Bashir had been charged over the killings of protesters during those anti-regime demonstrations, which eventually led to his ouster.

Ahmed also said on Saturday that 41 other charges against “symbols of the ousted regime” were under investigation. 

He did not name the others accused but said most of the charges were related to the “possession of land”.

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North Africa Politics

Opposition leader in Sudan calls for investigation into crackdown

The protest movement has also called for an international probe, something rejected by the military council

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Opposition leader in Sudan calls for investigation into crackdown

Sudan’s veteran opposition leader Sadiq al-Mahdi called on Friday for an “objective” international investigation into last week’s deadly crackdown on protesters, after the ruling military council rejected such a probe.

Mahdi’s call was backed by top US envoy Tibor Nagy, who urged an “independent and credible” investigation into the June 3 killings.

Thousands of protesters who had camped outside the army headquarters in central Khartoum for weeks were dispersed in an operation which left dozens dead.

The crackdown followed the collapse of talks between protest leaders and generals, following the ouster of president Omar al-Bashir.

The generals had repeatedly pledged they would not disperse the sit-in, but on Thursday admitted that “mistakes” had been made.

Mahdi, speaking after attending Friday prayers at a mosque in Khartoum’s twin city of Omdurman, condemned the operation.

“The protest’s dispersal was wrong. There should be an independent international investigation into it,” he told AFP. 

“It’s important that the probe is objective and not biased in favour of the authorities.”

Mahdi’s elected government was toppled in a 1989 coup led by Bashir, who then ruled for three decades before being ousted in April following mass protests.

‘Independent and credible’

Nagy, the US assistant secretary of state for Africa, also called for an investigation.

“The USA believe very strongly there has to be an investigation which is independent and credible which will hold accountable those committing the egregious events,” he said in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, after a two-day visit to Khartoum.

Along with the newly-appointed US special envoy to Sudan, Donald Booth, Nagy met with military council chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan on Thursday.

The June 3 crackdown left about 120 people dead and hundreds wounded, according to doctors linked to protesters, while the health ministry put the death toll at 61.

The protest movement has also called for an international probe, something rejected by the military council.

“We do not accept an international investigating committee. We are a sovereign state,” council spokesman Shamseddine Kabbashi told reporters late Thursday.

Expressing “regret” over the crackdown, Kabbashi said the plan had been to clear an area close to the sit-in — but “excesses happened”.

He said the military is carrying out its own inquiry, whose findings are to be released on Saturday.

‘Harsh and unacceptable’

On Friday, worshippers at the mosque linked to Mahdi’s National Umma Party appeared frustrated with the generals’ version of the crackdown.

“The way the sit-in was dispersed was harsh and unacceptable,” said Salim Gebril, a university professor and member of the National Umma Party. 

“They (the military rulers) keep saying they are looking forward to reaching an agreement (with the protest leaders) but their tone sounded as if they may take another route.”

Another worshipper, Abdelrahman Amir al-Tom, found the military council’s statement to be “extremely disappointing”. 

Protest leaders and generals have now agreed to resume talks after mediation led by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Mahdi believes the mediation “may have a positive impact,” and may help both sides overcome the differences.

“In the end, the military council cannot rule, that is clear, and civilian forces cannot talk about a future without the participation of the military council,” the former premier said.

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Africa News & Updates

Egypt will always support Haftar’s army forces -Sisi

According to Sisi, Egypt is supporting “the legitimacy of Libya represented in the country’s House of Representatives.”

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Egypt will always support Haftar’s army forces -Sisi | News Central TV
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP)

Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi said yesterday, that Egypt will always support the Libyan troops loyal to the General Khalifa Haftar.

Following his meeting with the Libyan parliament speaker Aqilah Saleh in Cairo the Egyptian capital, Sisi said, “Egypt’s position on supporting the Libyan National Army in its campaign to eliminate terrorist groups across Libya will never change.”

Saleh is currently on an indefinite visit to Cairo where he is holding meetings with Egyptian officials.

Sisi noted that his country was supporting what he described as “the legitimacy of Libya represented in the country’s House of Representatives,” stressing that the will of Libyans “must be respected.”

During a meeting in Tunisia on Wednesday, the foreign ministers of Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia called for “an immediate ceasefire,” adding that there was “no military solution to the crisis in Libya.”

In April, Haftar forces launched a military campaign to capture Tripoli from the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA).

Haftar’s campaign has, thus far, failed to achieve its primary objective, even after several weeks of fighting on the outskirts of Tripoli. Nevertheless, Haftar’s forces remain deployed in several areas around the capital.

Libya has witnessed serious political unrest since 2011 when long-time leader, Muammar Gaddafi was ousted and killed in a bloody NATO-backed uprising after four decades in power.

Two rival seats of power have since emerged in the country, the Tripoli-based GNA, which enjoys UN recognition, and the other one on the eastern part of the country, which is affiliated to Haftar.

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