Families of jailed Morocco protesters face long road

Relatives of imprisoned members of Morocco’s Al-Hirak Al-Shaabi movement hug each other after visiting the detainees at the Oukacha prison in Casablanca on October 18. (AFP)
Updated 21 October 2017
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Families of jailed Morocco protesters face long road

CASABLANCA, Morocco: A 1,200-kilometer round bus trip taking about 22 hours: that is the weekly grind faced by families of activists arrested over a protest movement in northern Morocco if they want to see their loved ones jailed in Casablanca.
“The families of those detained are exhausted, every week it’s the same ordeal,” complained Rachid Ahbbad, as he visited his 19-year-old son Bilal who was jailed in June.
“Why do they make us go through this suffering?“
The Rif region of northern Morocco, a predominantly Berber area, was gripped earlier this year by months of angry demonstrations calling for jobs, development and an end to corruption in the North African kingdom.
Originally sparked by the death of a fisherman crushed in a rubbish truck as he tried to salvage his confiscated catch, the demonstrations snowballed from grievances over local poverty into a major challenge to the authorities.
In response, security forces launched a crackdown, slinging the alleged leaders of the mainly young protesters in jail in May and June.
“Our youths took to the streets because of legitimate complaints. The protests were peaceful but they were accused of being separatists,” said Ahbbad.
After 49 of those behind bars were transferred to Casablanca in western Morocco, their relatives have been forced to make the punishing journey to see them during the two hours of visiting time allowed each Wednesday.
On Tuesday evenings, a bus laid on by the National Council for Human Rights, an official organization, sets off on the road from the Rif region’s main town Al-Hoceima toward Casablanca, stopping to pick up passengers along the way.
The political crackdown on the protesters has attracted the attention of rights activists and sparked a sit-down protest in front of the Oukacha prison, Morocco’s largest, in solidarity with the visiting relatives.
“The families need support,” said Amine Abdelhamid, a veteran rights activist and member of the committee backing those arrested in the Al-Hirak Al-Shaabi protest movement.
As Ahmed Zefzari emerged from the prison, he gave the latest news on his 39-year-old son Nasser, who became a flagbearer for the demonstrations with his diatribes against corrupt officialdom.
“Suffering destroys,” he said.
A little later, the rest of the families came out through the imposing doors of the penitentiary.
Soufiane El-Hani, who was visiting her brother, said that around half of a group of 38 detainees had called off a hunger strike they launched to protest the conditions of their detention and demand freedom.
“My son has lost a lot of weight, he is pale and speaks with difficulty,” said the mother of inmate Mohammed Jelloul, who had decided to push on with the strike.
“I tried to convince him to start eating but he refuses.”
Charged with “undermining the internal security of the state,” “attempted sabotage, murder and looting” or “conspiracy” to destabilize the country, the protesters face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
That threat has left the families in despair.
“We want them to be freed, they did nothing but demand their rights,” protested the mother of detainee Nabil Ahamjik.
For now, however, the long journey to and from the prison must continue.
Eventually the families board the bus for the return trip home, flicking victory signs at the activists supporting them through the windows as they leave.


Trump wants to meet Putin in Paris on Nov. 11: Bolton

US President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin talk during the family photo session at the APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam, in this November 11, 2017 file photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 24 October 2018
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Trump wants to meet Putin in Paris on Nov. 11: Bolton

  • Both leaders will be in Paris for the Nov. 11 World War I commemorations, which 60 heads of state and government are expected to attend

MOSCOW: Donald Trump wishes to meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin when the two visit Paris on Nov. 11 for World War I commemorations, the US president’s National Security Adviser John Bolton said on Tuesday.
“I think President Trump will look forward to seeing you in Paris on the sidelines of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Armistice,” Bolton told Putin in televised remarks as the two met for talks in Moscow.
Putin said: “It would be useful to continue a direct dialogue with the president of the United States... for example in Paris, if the American side is interested.”
Both leaders will be in Paris for the Nov. 11 World War I commemorations, which 60 heads of state and government are expected to attend.
Trump and Putin held their first bilateral summit in Helsinki in July, after which the US president came under strong criticism at home for adopting a very conciliatory tone with his Russian counterpart.
Bolton met Monday with several senior Russian officials before his talks with Putin. His visit comes after Trump announced that the United States would pull out of the Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) signed by president Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader.