TEHRAN, May 30, YJC - Authorities in Morocco have detained the leader of a protest movement that has shaken the North African country’s Rif region for several months.
TEHRAN, Young Journalists Club (YJC) -
Unnamed government sources and an Interior Ministry official told media outlets on Monday that Nasser Zefzafi, who had been on the run since Friday, was taken into custody.
Further details of his arrest were not immediately available.
Police issued the arrest warrant on Friday after the protest leader confronted a local cleric, who was criticizing recent anti-corruption protests during his sermon that day.
Security forces later tried to arrest the activist for interrupting the preacher, but the move led to clashes between them and Zefzafi’s supporters.
Prosecutors said the arrest was ordered after Zefzafi "obstructed freedom of worship" at the mosque in al-Hoceima city of northern Rif region.
The protest leader faces up to three years in prison on charges of insulting the cleric, sowing disturbances and making provocative speeches.
Zefzafi had recently appeared in footage broadcast on social media, saying he was "safe and sound" and calling for further demonstrations.
Al-Hoceima and several other regional cities have been hit by fresh protests in recent days.
Angry demonstrators clashed with police during protests in al-Hoceima on Friday and Saturday. At least three members of the security forces were reported to have been seriously hurt on Friday.
Thousands of people were also out across the country to show their solidarity with the al-Hoceima protesters on Sunday. Demonstrations were held in the cities of Casablanca, Beni, Tangier, Nador, Imzouren, and near the parliament building in Rabat.
Hundreds of mainly young protesters gathered in two neighborhoods of al-Hoceima again on Sunday night. They held placards and chanted slogans such as "The state is corrupt!" and "We are all Zefzafi!"
"We cannot take a single step, the police are everywhere," AFP quoted an activist in the city as saying.
Rallies against local corruption have been growing since last year, when a local fisherman was crushed in a refuse truck as he was trying to retrieve his merchandise confiscated by police.
The fishmonger, Mouhcine Fikri, was killed in October 2016, when a garbage compactor he had climbed into started operating. He was seeking to stop police from destroying 500 kilograms of swordfish that they had confiscated from him and had thrown into the truck.
Some Moroccan activists describe the unrest in al-Hoceima as the "unfinished business” of Moroccan "Arab Spring” activists.
Arab Spring refers to a series of uprisings and revolutions that started across the Middle East and North Africa in 2011 against despotic rule, unemployment, inflation, and corruption, among other issues.
Morocco, a country with high unemployment and poverty rates, has been under a monarchical rule for 350 years.