Mohammed Ziane in 2017
Former human rights minister Mohamed Ziane was arrested by Moroccan authorities on Monday 21 November. On the same day, the appeals court upheld his three-year prison sentence. In recent years, Ziane has become an outspoken critic of the Moroccan government. He challenged the Moroccan security apparatus several times.
Former minister and lawyer
Ziane was a member of the House of Representatives between 1980 and 1995 and served as Minister for Human Rights in the late nineties. At the time, he was aligned with the Constitutional Party. In 2001, Ziane founded his own party, the Moroccan Liberal Party.
Ziane is also a famous lawyer. He defended Taoufik Bouachrine, an opposition media figure, who was sentenced to a prison sentence of 15 years, officially for “sexual assaults”. Taoufik always denied these accusations, claiming he was the victim of “a political trial”.
“Diffusing disrespectful declarations”
Ziane’s arrest followed a clash with Abdellatif Hammouchi, a close associate of the Moroccan king Mohammed VI. Ziane was charged with sexual harassment accusations, defying COVID-19 restrictions, and “diffusing disrespectful declarations against Abdellatif Hammouchi personally” and against the state’s administration and judiciary. Human rights advocates say that these charges are mostly made-up.
In the lead-up to Ziane’s imprisonment, the lawyer went on trial after he accused the security apparatus of faking a video in which he was seemingly shown in a compromising situation with a married woman.
Ziane’s son, lawyer Ali Reda Ziane, is defending his father. He stated that Ziane was “transferred to al-Arjat prison. He was not even notified legally and he never appeared” before the court. Ali Reda Ziane argued that his father “was convicted [of] all possible and imaginable charges, it’s an aberration the likes of which I’ve never seen.”
In September, human rights activist Rida Benotmane was sentenced to three years in prison after he had posted messages on social media, calling to protest the COVID-19 measures. He was officially charged with “contempt for institutions”.
Opposition figures and human rights activists are the targets of harsh repression and persecution in Morocco. Reporters Without Borders ranked Morocco 136th of the 180 ranked countries in the World Press Freedom Index 2021. Though at the beginning of his reign, King Mohammed VI seemingly held more respect for freedom of speech than his father, his rule has become increasingly authoritarian over the past years. When dissidents cross certain “red lines” – among which are undermining the monarchy, the king, Islam, or Morocco’s claim to “territorial integrity” – they risk persecution.
Sources: Africa News, Amnesty, Al Jazeera, Middle East Eye
Photo: Wikimedia Commons