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On April 6, when thousands of people [en] took to the streets in Casablanca, Morocco to answer the rallying cry of three the country's three leading main labor unions, eleven student protesters were violently beaten and arrested by police. Although organized by labor leaders, student groups joined the protest to voice their own concerns about social and political issues affecting youth in the country.
Among those arrested were Ayoub Boudad, Hakkim Serroukh, Hamza Haddi, Mostafa Aarass, Mohamed Alharaq, Youssef Bouhlal, Amine Lekbabi and Fouad Elbaz — all members of the February 20 Movement, a pro-democracy movement that began in February of 2011, in the immediate aftermath of the Arab spring. The movement is associated with the Student Union for Educational System Reform (UECSE), and the National Students Union of Morocco (UNEM), the two main student unions in Morocco. Ayoub Boudad — who uses “Simpson” as a pseudonym — has become a representative figure for the group, with supporters using the image of Bart Simpson as a symbol of solidarity.
The 11 protesters have since been accused of “assaulting a police officer performing his duties” and of “partaking in and organizing a non-declared demonstration.” Nine of them are under arrest while two others are under provisional release. Five policemen reported being injured by protesters and submitted medical reports as evidence of the abuse. In fact, the demonstrators had received authorization to march.
Public mobilization pushing for the release of the activists has gained significant momentum. The February 20 Movement called for a series of sit-ins, with three of them set to take place in front of the Moroccan Parliament in Rabat. The UECSE, it staged three flash mobs in Rabat, Casablanca and in Mohammedia, as seen in the following video:
On social networks, the call for solidarity also went viral. The trending hashtags in Morocco were #FreeKoulchi (Free them all) and #FreeSimpson. The photos below illustrate the rally for the activists.
In the following video produced by the UECSE and the family and friends of Ayoub Boudad aka Simpson, citizens are seen denouncing the arrest and pleading for his release :
The court hearing for these activists was also marked by a strong mobilization. Court sessions took place throughout late April and early May. Another one is penciled for tomorrow, May 13, at the Ain Sbaâ tribunal. Since their detention, some of the activists have initiated a hunger strike to protest their arbitrary detention, police brutality during the arrest, and the denial of provisional release.
The Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH) [en], the largest human rights group in Morocco, argues that the real reason behind the arrest of the activists is that they are members of the February 20 Movement and that they have voiced criticism of the regime. The group asserts that the detentions were orchestrated by the regime in an attempt to bring down the February 20 Movement, and that the trial is thus illegitimate.
A petition for the release of all political detainees in Morocco was also launched shortly after the arrest.