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.


Malaysia opposition leader arrested for corruption

Updated 51 min 3 sec ago
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Malaysia opposition leader arrested for corruption

  • Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was detained after being questioned by anti-corruption authorities
  • He was arrested in “relation to an investigation into abuse of power, criminal breach of trust and money laundering,” the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission said

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s opposition leader was arrested Thursday on suspicion of corruption, a fresh blow to his party which was ousted at elections this year after six decades in power.
Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, a former deputy premier and ally of scandal-mired ex-leader Najib Razak, was detained after being questioned by anti-corruption authorities. He will be charged Friday.
He is head of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the lynchpin in a coalition of parties that ruled Malaysia from independence in 1957 until their shock defeat in May polls.
The UMNO has been on the ropes since, with many coalition partners abandoning a party that had become synonymous with widespread graft, divisive racial politics and a rotten ruling elite.
Najib has also been arrested and charged over allegations he oversaw the plundering of state fund 1MDB, a scandal that played a major part in the election defeat.
Ahmad Zahid was arrested in “relation to an investigation into abuse of power, criminal breach of trust and money laundering,” the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission said.
It gave no further details but local media reported that he was accused of misappropriating 800,000 ringgit ($190,000) from a foundation he chairs to settle credit card payments in 2014 and 2015.
“I urge UMNO members to remain calm and follow the rule of law,” Ahmad Zahid told AFP before his arrest.
The UMNO quickly came to the defense of Ahmad Zahid, who was elected as party chief after May’s polls, and said the arrest was politically motived.
“This action is a strategy to portray Zahid as an untrustworthy and unqualified leader,” said Jalaluddin Alias, a member of the party’s supreme council.
Ahmad Zahid, who also served as interior minister in the last government, stuck by Najib even as other senior figures abandoned him over the 1MDB graft scandal.
US authorities say more than $4.5 billion was misappropriated from the fund, with nearly $700 million diverted into Najib’s personal bank accounts. The ex-leader has denied any wrongdoing.