Morocco pledges probe after protests over vendor’s death
Moroccan authorities were promising yesterday to investigate the death of a fish seller whose crushing in a rubbish truck sparked widespread demonstrations. Mouhcine Fikri, 31, was crushed to death on Friday in the truck in the northern city of AlHoceima as he reportedly tried to protest against authorities seizing and destroying his wares. His death in the Rif - an ethnically Berber region long neglected under the former king and at the heart of a 2011 protest movement for reform - has triggered outrage in other cities including the capital Rabat.
Thousands attended Fikri’s funeral in Al-Hoceima yesterday after an image of his inert body - head and arm sticking out from under the lorry’s crushing mechanism - went viral on social media. The gruesome image was splashed across the front page of newspapers yesterday alongside photos of the protests - in AlHoceima as well as in smaller Rif towns, but also in Casablanca, Marrakesh and Rabat.
“Morocco is in shock. The horrific death of the fish seller has caused tears in the Rif and outrage among Moroccans,” the daily Akhbar Alyoum said. Images on social media showed hundreds of high school students protesting in Al-Hoceima yesterday morning. Autopsy results quoted by the media yesterday showed “fractures of the five first ribs left and right” and reported death from “hemorrhagic shock after a chest wound.”
The circumstances of the fishmonger’s death have remained unclear. But a human rights activist said on Sunday that the authorities had forced the fishmonger to destroy several boxes of swordfish, which it is illegal to catch using driftnets. Fikri threw himself in the truck after his goods were crushed by the machine, Fassal Aoussar from the Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH) said.
Interior Minister Mohamed Hassad late on Sunday vowed that an investigation would be held to “determine the exact circumstances of the tragedy and punish those responsible”. He said authorities found “a large quantity of swordfish” in his car at a police checkpoint and “a decision was taken to destroy the illegal goods”. “All questions are about what happened after that,” he said. “We cannot accept officials acting in haste, anger or in conditions that do not respect people’s rights.”
It was the self-immolation of a street vendor in Tunisia in late 2010 in protest at police harassment that sparked Tunisia’s revolution and the Arab Spring uprisings across the rest of the region the next year. The AMDH on Sunday warned of a “possible repeat” of the 2011 protests in the Rif, just a week before Morocco starts hosting international climate talks. King Mohammed VI ordered a “thorough and exhaustive investigation” into Fikri’s death and the “prosecution of whoever is found responsible”, the interior ministry said.
The king - who was in Zanzibar at the weekend on a tour of East Africa - sent the interior minister to “present his condolences” to Fikri’s family, it said. Morocco is due to host the COP22 climate talks in Marrakesh from Nov 7 to 18. Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane released a statement Saturday presenting his condolences over Fikri’s death, but urging members and supporters of his party to refrain from participating in protests.
“People are really pissed off, and can’t keep being silent anymore,” said Abdellah Lefnatsa, a union leader from a leftwing movement among the more than 1,000 people protesting in front of the Parliament in the capital, Rabat. He claimed that students, workers and activists have died because of police violence in recent years. Rachid Hilali, a technology project manager at the Rabat protest, said, “To me what happened in Al Hoceima should not happen in 2016. This way of killing people by the police, our grandfathers are used to it, but we should not be used to this. We cannot accept this kind of treatment anymore.” Such protests are rare in Morocco. — Agencies