A protest in Al Hoceima in the Rif region in the summer of 2017. Photo by Mohamed Mouha via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)
This story is the second in a two-part series on media repression and “fake news” in Morocco. It was written in collaboration with Access Now. You can read the first part here.
The Hirak protest movement in Morocco first took hold after the death of Mohsin Fekri, a fish vendor whose product was seized by authorities in the city of Al Hoceima on October 29, 2016. When Fekri tried to reclaim the fish, he was crushed to death by a garbage truck.
From then until well into 2017, Moroccans in the Rif region held weekly demonstrations protesting poor socio-economic conditions and corrupt government officials, long-neglected by the central government, and they persisted until authorities launched a violent crackdown in June 2017, arresting 400 activists and protesters.
The movement also triggered a backlash for independent journalists and people who wanted to document the protests and ensuing crackdown. At least seven independent journalists were arrested while covering the protests. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, three are currently behind bars over their coverage of the Hirak.
Hamid El Mahdaoui, who ran the news site Badil.info prior to his arrest, is serving three years in jail after he was convicted by the court of appeals of Casablanca in June 2018 of “failure to report a crime threatening national security,’’ due to a phone conversation (an official recording of which was obtained via wiretap) between himself and a Moroccan anti-monarchy activist based in the Netherlands, in which the activist described a plan to bring weapons into the country.
El Mahdaoui speaking in a video about the crackdown on protesters in El Hoceima. Source: Screenshot from a video uploaded on the journalist’s YouTube channel on June 28, 2017.
El Mahdaoui had already served a one-year jail sentence for “inciting” protest. He was arrested on July 20, 2017 in the city of Al-Hoceima where he traveled to cover the Hirak protests.
Citizen journalist Mohamed El Asrihi,