Interview with Moroccan Human Rights Activist Maâti Monjib
October 29, 2020 – https://carnegieendowment.org/sada/82969
Can you explain the context of your trial and the recent changes in your case?
Five years after the regime first accused me in 2015 of threatening the integrity of the state and of financial corruption, the regime is now targeting me again by fabricating non-political accusations such as money laundering.
I have always been outspoken about the regime’s infringements on the freedoms and rights of citizens, the suppression of the free press, and arbitrary arrest of activists—both in a personal capacity and as the President of Freedom Now. In response to my views and my work, the Direction Générale des Études et de la Documentation, or General Directorate for Studies and Documentation (DGED), began sending reports to the government claiming that I exposed the regime internationally. They falsely accused me of threatening the integrity of the state, weaking the loyalty of the citizenry, and liaising with hostile foreign enemies. On September 16, 2015, the pressure intensified, and the government implemented a travel ban against me. In response, I decided to undertake a hunger strike for twenty-four days, which pressured the government to lift the ban. Unfortunately, my health deteriorated and the legal case against me continued. This case has been delayed by a judge’s orders since 2015 and I have not been allowed to teach or lecture at Moroccan universities since then. However, in the midst of this, I have received a tremendous amount of support from human rights defenders, democratic activists, and NGOs in Morocco, across the Arab world, in Europe, and in the United States.
With the new accusations, the regime hopes to weaken my public image and curb the domestic and international support for me. Prior to these new accusations, some intelligence-linked media outlets wrote that it would be better to pursue me either on financial or sexual crimes rather than political ones. The regime decided to use financial corruption because I am a leftist—financial crimes are a sensitive issue for leftists and democracy activists.
Why do you believe these charges are politically motivated? What about your work attracts attention?
The trial, as well as attacks on me and my family by intelligence-linked media, is in response to my rhetoric about the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST), or Directorate of Territorial Surveillance, which is a branch of the Moroccan intelligence service. I have pointed out that it has consolidated its political influence to the extent that DST has become a type of political police. I also discussed its role in espionage using Pegasus Spyware—a tool sold only to governments, according to Amnesty International—which was installed on my phone and on the phone of journalist Omar Radi, who is currently in prison. Moreover, I discussed the case of journalist Souleiman Raissouni, who was arrested by a team of fifteen security agents, similarly to how they apprehend terrorists.
In terms of my work, my organization organized meetings between Moroccan secularists and moderate Islamists to create a pro-democracy, anti-authoritarian front, and to decrease the tensions that Morocco has witnessed since the 2003 terrorist attacks in Casablanca. I was simultaneously organizing investigative journalism courses for young and established journalists. Hundreds of journalists from across Morocco benefited from these courses which resulted in a proliferation of investigations into government corruption. We trained the journalists to use the Story Maker application, which turned out to be quite effective. The dissemination of Story Maker in Morocco is the main official charge against me. Because of it, the regime accused me of threatening the integrity of the state. This is ridiculous.
These fabricated accusations of financial crimes are meant to curb my human rights advocacy in Morocco and the region because my positions and my writings have never suited the regime. The authorities do not want problems called out because the primary domestic intelligence apparatus is increasingly being tasked with the political protection and preservation of the regime. They also silence both progressive and pro-democracy conservative opposition voices. In my analysis, the effective security apparatus’s role in the fight against terrorism has led to it becoming politically influential and its influence is concentrated in particular within political party elites, the central administration, and the national media—a dangerous trajectory for the country. The security agencies set the agenda for most discourse coming from media institutions. Of course, speaking out on this does not sit well with decisionmakers.
Can you speak about the broader climate for political dissent and freedom of expression? What has been the impact of the global pandemic in this space?
Since 2013, freedom of expression in Morocco has continually regressed and with it, civil and political work has regressed, too. The majority of political parties are regime affiliated and policies are implemented to benefit the few who control the country’s economic means and levers of power. Therefore, the intellectuals and journalists now act as the opposition, instead of the compromised political parties. This shift caused the security apparatus to target those who criticize the political police by labeling them as corrupt, and as wielding too much power in public life. They are also targeted through fabricated charges, including accusations of financial crimes and, in some cases, sexual harassment or assault.
The regime used the COVID-19 pandemic to oppress the opposition and put pressure on human rights defenders. The government has been trying to pass Bill 20.22 which seeks to greatly restrict freedoms in the digital space. The internet is practically the only space that provides freedom of expression and features diverse views. Thankfully, the vigilance of Morocco’s digital civil society pressured the government to withdraw Bill 20.22.
What has been the reaction to the recent developments in your case, and what are the next steps in the process?
Many independent Arabic, Spanish, French, British, and American publications have covered the updates in my case. Many presented the accurate, politically motivated nature of these new, false allegations. Most of the articles say that I am being persecuted by the Moroccan regime because of my critical writings and my stances, which include opposing the politicization of the security forces, their control over the media, and their influence in party and state politics
In terms of next steps, I will appear in court to argue against the legitimacy of the case targeting me. Of course, I will also continue to enthusiastically fight for democracy and human rights as people have always entrusted me to do. I will continue to speak the truth despite pressure subjected upon myself and my family. Police from the La Brigade Nationale de la Police Judiciaire (BNPJ), or the National Brigade of Judicial Police, recently visited several of my sisters’ houses, multiple times in the same week, and interrogated them for long hours.
I have received tremendous support from Moroccan and global human rights organizations. I thank them for everything they have done to defend me and all democracy activists. I hope they continue spreading the truth about how I have been targeted and about the context of these new, false accusations, as well as the spying. I have confronted the regime and will continue doing so. They will not affect my defense of human rights. I promise my friends and readers that I will remain steadfast in speaking the truth, resisting tyranny, and defending all political prisoners. I will continue to call for all international organizations concerned with human rights to support the side of justice in cases like those of Nacer Zefzafi, Omar Radi and Souleiman Raissouni.
Maâti Monjib is a Moroccan historian, political analyst, and human rights activist.
Intissar Fakir, a fellow and editor in chief of Sada in Carnegie’s Middle East Program, conducted this interview in Arabic on October 14. The interview was edited for clarity.