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Widespread protests erupt in Rif, Rabat after fishmonger is crushed in Morocco

Widespread demonstrations erupted this week after Morocco arrested 11 people on charges of involuntary manslaughter after a fish seller was crushed in a rubbish truck.

On Friday, Mouhcine Fikri, 31, was killed in the city of Al-Hoceima, northern Morocco, while protesting against the seizure of swordfish he was selling (the catching of swordfish is not allowed this time in Morocco at this time of year).

In a video, Fikri is shown climbing into a truck containing 500kg of swordfish that police had confiscated. He was then crushed by the truck’s compactor.

Following his death, five local officials from Al-Hoceima were arrested, two of whom are members of Morocco’s interior ministry, as well as three garbage collectors and several other suspects. More than 20 people were questioned regarding the events, according to Morocco’s official MAP news agency.

The suspects were then brought before a magistral court for where a public prosecutor accused them of involuntary manslaughter and forgery of public documents.

It was believed that the truck driver had received a signal from a trash collection worker to turn on the compactor while Fikri was inside the truck. Several people were simultaneously trying to prevent the fish from being loaded.

The official investigation found that they had found “no order to assault the victim by any party”. The accusations of forgery of public documents, however, relate to the possible destruction of orders to activate the crusher which the workers may have received.

After images of Fikri’s crushed body went viral on social media, large-scale anti-government protests took place with many accusing the authorities of intentionally starting the compactor while Fikri was inside. Thousands attended Fikri’s funeral in Al-Hoceima, held on Sunday.

In the majority-Berber region of Rif, where Al-Hoceima is located, large crowds gathered to wave Berber flags. Chants of “Martyr Mouhcine” were heard at the surprisingly large gathering. Large protests also took place in Morocco’s capital, Rabat.

Similar events around the death of a fruit seller in Tunisia by self-immolation in 2010 to protest police harassment sparked that country’s Arab Spring uprisings. Some anticipate a similar chain of events in Morocco.

King Mohammed VI, who in 2011 was able to avoid one of the large-scale Arab Spring-inspired revolution to which many Morocco’s regional neighbors succumbed by implementing constitutional reform, ordered a  “thorough and exhaustive investigation” into Fikri’s death. He sent Morocco’s Interior Minister to offer condolences to Fikri’s family.

The Moroccan Association of Human Rights warned of a potential repeat of the 2011 protests in the Rif. The Rif was also at the center of the 2011 reform protests.

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