Open Democracy: The troubling case of Maâti Monjib highlights Morocco’s climate of repression
For five years, the 60-year-old academic and journalist has been the subject of police persecution.
On 29 December 2020, as he enjoyed lunch with a friend in the Moroccan capital of Rabat, Maâti Monjib was kidnapped by eight plain-clothes police officers. A prominent academic, journalist and historian, Monjib had for years been the object of constant persecution and police harassment for “threatening the internal security of the state”.
He had been brought to court more than 20 times since 2015, though never convicted. In October 2020, a new investigation into Monjib was launched, over accusations of money laundering.
Though he had never missed judicial summons, the 60-year-old was taken, without an arrest warrant, from his lunch to the El Arjat detention center. Nearly a month on, Monjib remains detained, and has been unable to see his family due to COVID-19 restrictions in the prison – while his lawyers report that they still do not have access to the file, despite a hearing scheduled on 20 January.
In a statement earlier this month, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders said it “strongly condemns the arbitrary detention and judicial harassment against Maâti Monjib which only seem to aim at punishing him for the exercise of his legitimate human rights defense activities and calls on the Moroccan authorities to immediately release him.” Meanwhile Amnesty International has called for his immediate and unconditional release.
A human rights activist
Monjib was a leftist and green activist during the period of dictatorial reign of Hassan II. During the 1980s he lived and studied in Senegal and in France, completing two different PhDs at the universities of Dakar and Montpellier, and acquiring French nationality.
With the liberalization of the Moroccan regime in 1998-99 at the end of Hassan II’s reign and the beginning of that of his successor, Mohamed VI, Monjib returned to his country to teach at the Institute of African Studies at the Mohammed V University in Rabat.
He is also a prominent journalist, writing a column for the weekly paper, Le Journal, and contributing to the monthly Zaman, as well as appearing regularly on international media. In 2011, during the ‘Arab Spring’, Monjib co-founded the Moroccan Association for Investigative Journalism and created the Ibn Rochd Center for Studies and Communication, a training school for journalists and human rights activists. It is for these activities that Monjib has for the past five years been the target of police persecution.
Since 2015, Monjib and his colleagues have been subject to multiple police interrogations, temporary arrests and had their passports confiscated, as well as defamation campaigns by pro-government media outlets.
The regime and the security forces are exasperated by Monjib’s resistance. He has never capitulated, refusing to leave the country when he had the chance after the authorities gave him back his passport, going on several hunger strikes to defend his rights, and openly criticizing Morocco’s intelligence agency, the General Directorate for Territorial Surveillance.
The case of Maâti Monjib is emblematic of the climate of repression that reigns in Morocco, and the methods of the Moroccan regime and its police to silence any criticism or opposition
In an interview with the French site, Orient XXI, Monjib said: “The goal of Moroccan power is to make me and my family feel bad in Morocco and wherever I travel, (…). I repeat here to the men of the regime: there is no way I will be silent, when people, including friends, are suffering in prison just for expressing themselves freely”.
An emblematic case
The case of Maâti Monjib is emblematic of the climate of repression that reigns in Morocco, and the methods of the Moroccan regime and its police to silence any criticism or opposition.
Since 2011, the regime has tried to systematically stifle independent journalists and media. In recent years, the repression of activists and social movements has significantly increased, targeting those who revolt against the inequalities and social injustices that plague the country.
One example of such repression is over the Moroccan Hirak, a 2016 popular protest movement in the Rif, an area in northern Morocco. This was a weeks-long uprising against corruption, police violence and poverty after the death of a small fish seller. In 2017, the movement’s 43 supposed leaders were sentenced to terms of up to 20 years in prison.
In another incident, 19 people arrested in 2010 for having participated in a popular independence uprising in the Western Sahara (controlled by Morocco since 1979), were in November 2020 sentenced to terms ranging from 20 years to life in prison.
Journalist and human rights activist Omar Radi was arrested in July of last year, accused of “sexual assault” and “espionage”. He, too, has been the subject of a long campaign of defamation in the press. A few weeks before his arrest, the editor of the independent daily Akhbar el-Youm, Soulaimane Raissouni, was also arrested on charges of indecent assault. Both men remain in jail awaiting trial and resolutely deny the charges against them.
According to Human Rights Watch, “there are precedents in Morocco of arresting, trying, or imprisoning independent journalists, activists or politicians on questionable charges of sexual misconduct.” But while the Moroccan authorities may be instrumentalizing sexual assault charges and selectively applying justice, it is imperative to take the testimonies of rape and sexual assault survivors seriously and distinguish them from politically charged accusations.
Reliable and moderate Kingdom?
In Morocco there is a multi-party parliamentary system, although the real power is controlled by the King’s Palace, the local elite, who are often referred to as the Makhzen, and the security forces. Yet the Kingdom of Morocco is considered by Western states to be an ally: reliable, ‘moderate’, and reasonably democratic.
This is particularly true in France, where the economic, political and personal links (between the elites) run very deep. This ranges from close and permanent cooperation between two countries’ secret services and police forces to economic cooperation. The Moroccan royal family has numerous properties in France, and many high-profile French figures own houses in Morocco. As such, information about repression in Morocco is often ignored by French mainstream media, which instead often repeats the defamation campaigns against the regime’s opponents.
Because he is a leftist and has organized debates in Morocco with Muslim movements, Maâti Monjib is often accused of being an “Islamo-leftist”. This accusation is frequently used by politicians or conservative media in France to discredit a person or cause – usually progressive and green movements or personalities.
The term suggests ‘an objective accomplice of terrorists’ and is used to explain why it is not possible to defend such a person in France, in Morocco, or anywhere else. Until when will the Moroccan regime keep using such tactics to silence its opponents?
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Emily Bell Leonard Tow Professor of Journalism and director, Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Columbia Journalism School
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