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.


Djibouti asks UN help to end border dispute with Eritrea

Djibouti’s UN ambassador, Mohamed Siad Doualeh. (Courtesy: Youtube)
Updated 39 min 38 sec ago
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Djibouti asks UN help to end border dispute with Eritrea

  • Eritrea had successfully resolved a dispute with Yemen over their sea boundary and a Red Sea island through binding international arbitration
  • Djibouti accused Eritrean troops of occupying the Dumeira mountain area

UNITED NATIONS: Djibouti is asking Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to help peacefully resolve a border dispute with Eritrea following the recent end to that nation’s 20-year border dispute with Ethiopia.
Djibouti’s UN ambassador, Mohamed Siad Doualeh, asked Guterres in a letter circulated Wednesday to work with the Security Council to bring his tiny port nation and Eritrea together “with the aim of facilitating an agreement between them upon a mutually acceptable means of peaceful dispute settlement.”
He said Djibouti’s preference would be to refer the dispute “to judicial settlement or arbitration” that would be legally binding.
Djibouti’s appeal to the UN chief follows the dramatic diplomatic thaw to one of Africa’s longest-running conflicts that began last month when Ethiopia’s reformist new prime minister fully accepted a peace deal that ended a 1998-2000 border war with Eritrea that killed tens of thousands.
Doualeh recalled that the Security Council imposed sanctions on Eritrea in 2009 “because of its aggression against Djibouti and its refusal to withdraw its troops from the disputed area, and its rejection of all efforts aimed at mediating between the two parties.”
Djibouti accused Eritrean troops of occupying the Dumeira mountain area shortly after the peacekeepers left on June 13, 2017, and lodged a formal complaint with the African Union.
“Eritrean forces continue to occupy Djiboutian territory, prisoners of war remain unaccounted for, threats of force continue to emanate from the Eritrean side and the risk of violent confrontation is once again high,” Doualeh said.
He warned that without any effort to end the border dispute, the UN monitoring group has said “the situation on the ground remains vulnerable to provocation by both parties, which could result in the rapid escalation of conflict.”
“There is thus an urgent need for a new dispute settlement mechanism,” Doualeh said.
He said Djibouti applauds the secretary-general’s recent decision to refer a longstanding border dispute between Venezuela and Guyana to the International Court of Justice. He also noted that Eritrea had successfully resolved a dispute with Yemen over their sea boundary and a Red Sea island through binding international arbitration.
Doualeh said Djibouti will “consider in good faith any proposals that you or the Security Council might make with regard to the appropriate means of peaceful dispute settlement.”