by Rosie Alfatlawi
Moroccans have taken to social media to express their opposition the imprisonment of a journalist accused of involvement in banned protests in the northern Rif region.
Hamid al-Mahdaoui was sentenced to three months in prison on Tuesday. Al-Mahdaoui, who runs Badil.info news website, had been arrested the previous Thursday while filming a demonstration in the town al-Hoceimah, which had be banned by the authorities.
In a statement following the ruling, Badil news website said that he was found guilty of involvement in organizing “a non-authorized march,” and of “inviting” others to participate in the protest.
A hashtag of the journalist’s name began to take off on Facebook, as Moroccans expressed their anger at his detainment.
The journalist, Hamid al-Mahdaoui, is not just a journalist seeking money.
Al-Mahdaoui stood up and fought as a journalist and offered much to [Popular] Movement at the national and international levels. He appeared on more than one channel in heated discussions with the gutter journalists.
He went down to the street and participated in the demonstrations. He revealed the secrets of sham investigations. He knocked on the doors of families and those arrested to make their voices, and the details of their abductions, heard by the world. He spoke on subjects that most do not dare to talk about.
For this reason, Al-Mahdaoui is considered a prisoner from the movement, and he is among the detainees of the Popular Movement (al-Hirak al-Shaabi).
Police have arrested dozens during months of ‘Popular Movement’ (al-Hirak al-Shaabi) protests in al-Hoceima and surrounding towns in the northern, predominantly Berber, Rif region of Morocco. These include seven journalists, according to Reports Without Borders.
Among those arrested was the movement’s leader, Naser Zefzafi who was accused of “threatening national security”. He sparked the most recent wave of protests in May after interrupting a preacher's Friday sermon to accuse him of lies, and of serving those in power rather than God.
Demonstrations against corruption and unemployment in the area first began following the death of a Moroccan fish vendor in Rif last October. Mouhcine Fikri was crushed by a garbage truck while trying to save his stock of swordfish which had been destroyed by the police.
Arrest of #Hamid al-Mahdaoui! If the crime of this journalist is to call for demonstrations, tens of hundreds of Moroccans must be arrested and more. #FreedomtoMahdaoui #FreedomofPress
In Morocco: 3 months in prison and fined for shouting… All solidarity with detained journalist # Hamid_al-Mahdaoui #ReleaseThoseArrested
I declare my full and absolute solidarity with the virtuous and honorable journalist the Professor #Hamid_al-Mahdaoui If you are with me click on the heart. (picture reads: We are all Hamid al-Mahdaoui)
Al-Mahdaoui was already facing prosecution prior to his arrest, after two government ministers had accused him of defamation.
His popular Youtube videos are well-known for criticizing Morrocan authorities. In the video below, Al-Mahdaoui delivers a “message to the King and the people” from the home of detained Popular Movement leader Naser Zefzafi.
A number of international media monitors have criticized Al-Mahdaoui’s arrest, calling for his release.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) indicated in a statement on Saturday that ““the situation of Moroccan and foreign journalists covering the events in northern Morocco keeps on getting worse.”
"By trying to prevent coverage of the Rif protests, the Moroccan authorities are gradually turning this region into a no-go zone for independent media," it said.
The report also indicated that internet connections had been deliberately slowed in Al-Hoceima, and the telephone network disrupted, “complicating the work of journalists.”
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