Statement from U.S. Committee for the Defense of Maâti Monjib

[The following is a statement that was put out by the U.S. Committee for the Defense of Maâti Monjib on 14 March 2021 calling for his immediate release, citing fears for his health due to the recent hunger strike he took on as well as the larger political implications of his continued imprisonment.]

His Majesty King Mohamed VI
King of Morocco
The Royal Palace
Rabat, Kingdom of Morocco
fax + 212 537-768515

His Excellency Saadeddine Othmani
Prime Minister
Government of Morocco
fax: + 212 537-731010/769995/768656 

Your Majesty and Your Excellency:

We write as the U.S. Committee for the Defense of Maati Monjib to condemn and denounce the violation of his fundamental right to free speech, academic freedom, and life itself. 

Professor Maâti Monjib, an academic historian, ajournalist, and a veteran defender of human rights in Morocco has been in prison since December 29, 2020. Moroccan authorities accused Dr. Monjib of, among other things, endangering the security of the state, money laundering, and fraudulent use of donations. In 2015, Dr. Monjib was accused of endangering the internal safety of the state. These accusations were followed by a hunger strike and a global outcry, which forced the Moroccan authorities to drop their plans to arrest him.  

In February 2021, unbeknownst to him or his lawyers, Dr. Monjib was sentenced to one year in prison for accusations that date back to 2015. Although Dr. Monjib and his lawyers attended the court almost twenty times between 2015 and December 2020, each time the judge decided to postpone his trial until his sentencing was announced concurrently to his arrest, jail, and investigation for new accusations in 2021. Even though Monjib was not  jailed, his freedom and civic rights were curtailed heavily for the last five years. Constant threats on and concerns about his physical safety forced him to restrict his movements within the country. In addition to living under persistent anxiety for his own individual safety, Dr. Monjib had to live for five years under the pressure of threats to his livelihood as a professor as well as those against his family members.

We believe that the Moroccan authorities’ persecution of Dr. Monjib is a result of his commitment to historical truth and democratization. As a historian, Dr. Monjib has authored one of the first history books to have revisited the accepted narratives of Morocco’s history and the place of the monarchy in the bloody competition over power. His monograph La monarchie marocaine et la lutte pour le pouvoir remains a pioneering study that places the monarchy at the heart of political persecution of political figures who sought to build a democratic Morocco immediately after independence in 1956. This book, which was banned in Morocco until the passing of King Hassan II in 1999, explains, in part, the hatred of Dr. Monjib by the Moroccan authorities. Always based on his careful historical research, Dr. Monjib’s academic and journalistic articles have tapped into little known aspects of the Moroccan past. He published for example a revealing article on the torture and persecution of Lalla Batoul Benaissa, considered to be the first feminist woman in Morocco, by Sultan Moulay Abdelhafid in person. Most recently, Dr. Monjib authored articles that revisited educational reform and revealed how King Hassan II Arabized education for the general Moroccan citizenry while he offered a French curriculum to his children in the Royal School. During debates about the rewriting of Moroccan history throughout the 2000s, Monjib excelled as a clear-headed, honest, and brave historian, who based his assessment of Moroccan history and its need of unsilencing on archival research and solid knowledge of the sources. Neither the pushback from his colleagues nor the persistence of historical taboos about what came to be known as Morocco’s history of the present deterred Dr. Monjib from seeking the truth and sharing it with his co-citizens. In Dr. Monjib’s practice, the study of history is intertwined with the respect of citizenship and human rights. This in and of itself is a dangerous path for a historian to take in a discipline that has been heavily immersed in silences, omissions, and strong statist intervention. 

In addition to his historical research, Dr. Monjib’s tribulations with the Moroccan state have emanated from his activism in civil society. Specifically, Dr. Monjib was the founder of a nonprofit think tank, the Ibn Rochd Center for Study and Communication, which endeavors to put scholarly research at the service of democratization in Morocco. For instance, the Ibn Rochd Center brought Islamists and Leftists together to find common ground and strive to democratize Morocco and put an end to authoritarianism. Under Dr. Monjib’s leadership, the Ibn Rochd Center also trained many young Moroccans in investigative journalism. Several of them went on to become very famous journalists, facing their own tribulations with the Moroccan state as a result of their excellent writing and journalistic work. Journalists Omar Radi, Imad Stittou, Hicham Nasouri, and Samad Ait Aicha are either in jail, charged with crimes they insist they did not commit, or in exile in Europe. Other independent women journalists allied with Dr. Monjib have faced severe censure and other tribulations. Hajar Raissouni was arrested, falsely accused of undergoing an abortion, brutally tortured and sentenced to a lengthy prison sentence before receiving an unprecedented royal pardon. Her colleague Afaf Bernani was also harassed and threatened by the Moroccan police and is now self-exiled in Tunisia.  Because of the illuminating role the Ibn Rochd Center played, the Moroccan authorities forced Monjib to shut it down in 2014. The closure of the center did not mean Dr. Monib’s retreat from the public space.  He, in fact, continued penning articles for academic journals, websites, and journalistic outlets. He also chaired Freedom Now, a novel and unique association set up to defend the freedom of the press in Morocco. These initiatives brought Dr. Monjib face-to-face with the state and its security apparatus whose vision of political participation and human rights was threatened by federating his activism and academic work. 

Dr. Monjib’s case is merely the tip of the iceberg of a forceful onslaught on freedom of expression in Morocco. Moroccan authorities, after a brief period of political openness in the early 2000s, have made it clear that only silence is safe. Taoufik Bouachrine, a very critical and popular  journalist, has been sentenced to a prison term of fifteen years for accusations of human trafficking–the first case in its kind under a recent law. Starting March 16, 2021, the publication of Bouachrine’s widely-read newspaper, Akhbar Alyoum, will come to a stop. Using a combination of intimidation and scandal-focusedstrategies, including filming dissident citizens in their bedrooms in intimate situations, the political police have almost shut down all public deliberations about democratization, free speech, and social justice. Many prominent Moroccans, who usually participate in activism and advocacy, have just disappeared from the public sphere. Until the recent revelations by the likes of Fouad Abdelmoumni about the sex videos he received and which forced him to retreat from public life and be silent for a year, many Moroccans were wondering why many activists just withdrew from political conversations. Moreover, academic freedom is not faring any better as is demonstrated by Dr. Monjib’s case. The most dangerous phenomenon, however, is the reemergence of a political police, which targets what Moroccans are posting on social media and other outlets, where they can still exercise their freedom of speech and thought. 

Since December 29, however, Dr. Monjib has been imprisoned for crimes he denies he committed. The funders of his projects have also cleared Dr. Monjib in statements in which they reiterated their trust in him and their denial of any mismanagement of their funds. Despite these statements, which confirmed Dr. Monjib’s honesty and moral probity, Moroccan authorities used their justice system to sentence him to a year in jail for accusations that date back to 2015. Neither Dr. Monjib nor his lawyers were informed of his trial or sentencing. In fact, Dr. Monjib was at the court for cross-examination by the prosecutor’s office at the time his sham trial took place. Major figuresprofessional organizations, and human/journalist rights organizations have called on the Moroccan authorities to release him. Unfortunately, these calls have fallen on deaf ears. By not listening to the voices of conscientious people and organizations who request the release of Dr. Monjib, the Moroccan authorities prove, once again, that they question the fundamental principles of human rights and respect of human dignity, to which they have paid lip service. 

As a result, on 4 March, Dr. Monjib began a hunger strike to pressure the Moroccan authorities to release him and drop the charges against him. Dr. Monjib’s hunger strike is a real test of Morocco’s respect for human rights and the right of an individual to life. Not only is Dr. Monjib diabetic, but he also suffers from a heart condition that requires regular medical treatment and follow-up. 

In light of this information, the Moroccan authorities are endangering Dr. Monjib’s safety by pushing him to continue his hunger strike. The Moroccan authorities need to release Dr. Monjib immediately in order to save his life and spare him and his family the pain and complications of his decision to engage in this hunger strike. We believe that the Moroccan state is using all its might and institutions to crush Dr. Monjib because he speaks truth to power and his voice has made him many personal enemies within the state. We urge the Moroccan government to think institutionally, beyond any individual strive for revenge.

We, the U.S. Committee for the Defense of Maâti Monjib, will use every legal means, nationally and internationally, including contacting members of Congress, the White House, and the United Nations, as well as sit-ins and protests in front of institutions representing Morocco’s interests in the United States to remind decision makers that Morocco is violating human rights and restricting fundamental freedoms. We believe that Morocco’s talk of reform and human rights hides myriad forms of abuse of human dignity and Moroccan citizens’ rights by using sham accusations supported by a justice system that is entirely enthralled to the state. 

We respectfully and firmly request that Dr. Maâti Monjib and all victims of abuse of power and violations of human rights in Morocco be released immediately.

U.S. Committee for the Defense of Maâti Monjib

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