Morocco’s monarch, King Mohammed VI
, has granted pardon to more than a thousand detainees, some of whom had been under arrest for taking part in protests in the troubled northern Rif region.
The Justice Ministry announced on Saturday that the monarch had pardoned a total of 1,178 people.
It said those pardoned included an unspecified number of detainees who had been arrested for taking part in demonstrations in the northern port city of al-Hoceima in the Rif region to protest alleged social injustice in the impoverished region.
Pardons were granted to those “who have not committed crimes and who are not implicated in serious acts… bearing in mind their family and humanitarian conditions,” the ministry said.
The pardons come ahead of celebrations marking the 18th anniversary of King Mohammed’s monarchy.
The Rif region, a predominantly Berber region, has been gripped by unrest for months.
Protests erupted last October after a fishmonger was crushed to death in a rubbish truck as he tried to retrieve his swordfish merchandise confiscated for being caught out of season.
Demands for justice later snowballed into a wider social movement named al-Hirak al-Shaabi, calling for jobs, development, and an end to corruption.
Abdessadek al-Bouchtaoui, a lawyer for detained protesters, described the mass pardon as “a positive step but it does not go far enough, because we are calling for the release of everyone held.”
According to the latest official figures, 176 people were being held over the unrest in al-Hoceima, including the movement’s leader, Nasser Zefzafi. But it was not clear specifically how many had been included in the recent pardons.
A demonstrator holds a picture of Nasser Zefzafi, a protest leader in Morocco’s Rif region. (File photo by AFP)
The government has promised to make major investments in the region, sent ministers to the area, and withdrawn police from prominent sites in a bid to defuse the situation.
A brief lull in the unrest ended on July 21 with clashes over a banned demonstration, which also drew in supporters from among the large Moroccan diaspora.
Seventy two police officers were wounded by stones and 11 protesters were injured by tear gas used to break up the rally, the official news
agency MAP reported, citing authorities in al-Hoceima.