(Tunis) – Moroccan police attacked and beat peaceful teacher-trainee protesters on January 7, 2016, causing dozens of injuries. Some of the protesters had serious head injuries that required emergency medical attention.
The police intervention came as a surprise since there was no prior warning. Some of us protesters at the forefront sat down on the ground while others ran inside the Inezgane training center, but the beatings by police continued indiscriminately and violently.
There was a trainee, a woman, who was severely beaten on the head, shoulder and on her chest with blood visible on her head. I tried to carry her away, but then I got hit on my shoulder and couldn’t carry her. Then five policemen surrounded me and beat me with sticks, and kicked me on my body, shoulders and feet. One of them kicked me in the testicles. I can hardly walk. I was taken to Inezgane hospital by ambulance and lost my vision for a few hours. I was transferred to the emergency room of Hassan II hospital in Agadir, but after one night at the hospital, they forced us to leave because they received instructions from the police.
Rachid, 26, another teacher trainee who asked to be identified only by his first name, said that the police beat him until he lost consciousness. He also said despite being on the front lines of the protest, he did not hear the security officials issue any warning before starting to violently disperse the crowd:
The police had us surrounded on all sides when they started beating us indiscriminately. After that I cannot remember details of what happened to me. All I can remember is while trying to get back into the training center I lost consciousness.
Eventually an ambulance transferred me to a hospital, but only after they had transported the serious cases. At the Inezgane Hospital, I found out that I had suffered beatings on the head and my right hand and was transferred to the Hassan II Hospital in Agadir, where I spent one night before being discharged. I am sure I was struck by security agents, but don’t know who it was.
The videos, photo material, and medical records of victims that Human Rights Watch reviewed seemed to corroborate the witnesses’ accounts. A video recording of the Inezgane protest published by the website Rassdmaroc (Morocco Monitor) shows anti-riot police wielding rubber batons and holding shields clubbing protesters as they try to seek shelter in a nearby building.
Photos provided by activists show a policeman in anti-riot gear beating a woman in a red headscarf and a white lab coat with a baton as she sits on the ground. Other photos show the same woman, later identified as Lamia Zguiti, a teacher trainee, after the protests with a bloodied face and head as other protesters and medical staff tend to her. Medical records provided by activists indicate that several protesters suffered trauma, including spinal injuries, fractures, and injuries to the face and head.
International human rights standards limit the use of force by police to situations in which it is strictly necessary. The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms provide that law enforcement officials may resort to force only if other means remain ineffective and only to the extent needed to achieve the intended, legitimate result.
Under article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Moroccan authorities are required to respect the right of peaceful assembly, and can only impose proportionate limitations on demonstrations “in the interests of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.” The UN expert on freedom of assembly has said this should mean that states should not require organizers of demonstrations to obtain permission before holding demonstrations, but simply to notify the authorities.