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Moroccans take part in a demonstration against what they perceive as the marginalization of the Rif region, in the town of Al-Hoceima, Morocco early June 3, 2017.  © 2017 Youssef Boudlal/Reuters

(New York) – Casablanca’s appeals court, on April 6, 2019, confirmed the heavy sentences against more than 40 protesters and activists despite allegations of torture, Human Rights Watch said today. The defendants include Nasser Zefzafi, the leader of Hirak, a socio-economic protest movement from Morocco’s northern Rif region.

In June 2018,a lower court had sentenced Zefzafi to 20 years in prison and his co-defendants to sentences ranging from one year to 20,for allegedly attacking police forces and in some cases burning vehicles and a police building.The court admitted the defendants’ “confessions” into evidence and dismissed their repudiation of their statements and allegations of torture, despite medical reports suggesting that at least some of the defendants had been subjected to police violence. The Court of Appeals should have weighed evidence that the police tortured the defendants when it reviewed their conviction and excluded any evidence that appeared to be obtained by torture.

Casablanca’s appeals courtalso confirmed the three-year sentence against a prominent journalist and government critic, Hamid El Mahdaoui, on a charge of failing to report a dubious security threat.

“The shocking appeals verdict upholding up to 20-year sentences against the Hirak protesters and El Mahdaoui failed to deal with the evidence of torture and forced confessions,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Morocco’s doubling down on vengeance against activists will come back to bite, as popular outrage to government abuses spreads across the region.”

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