Fishmonger’s death triggers protests in Morocco, investigation launched

Sunday 06/11/2016
A Moroccan shouts as thousands of Moroccans protest against the death of Mouhcine Fikri in the northern city of Al-Hoceima in Rabat, on October 30th. (AP)

Marrakech - The investigation into the death of a fishmonger, who died when he was crushed inside a rubbish truck, gathered momen­tum with 11 people arrested and charged with manslaughter or for­gery in a case that ignited protests across Morocco.
Mouhcine Fikri, 31, was killed October 28th in the northern city of Al-Hoceima as he apparently tried to protest the seizure and destruc­tion of hundreds of kilograms of swordfish, which are not allowed to be caught in autumn.
Fikri’s death sparked demonstra­tions, creating scenes reminiscent of 2011 protests that led to conces­sions from King Mohammed VI.
The 11 suspects, including two In­terior Ministry employees, two fish­eries officials and the head of the local veterinary services, appeared before a judge in Al-Hoceima on charges that included forgery of public documents, according to a prosecution statement.
The investigation determined that the garbage truck driver had received a signal from a rubbish collection worker to turn the crush­er power on while Fikri was in the truck and several people were try­ing to prevent fish being loaded.
Investigators said there was no order to assault the victim by any party, despite witness allegations that a police officer ordered the driver to “grind him” while Fikri was in the back of the truck.
A video purportedly showing Fikri being crushed in the truck and an image of his head and arm sticking out from under the truck’s equipment went viral on social me­dia.
An Arabic hashtag that translates to “grind_him” became the most circulated issue, on social networks in Morocco.
Parliamentarian Khadija Ziyani, from the Constitutional Union (UC) party, posted on her Facebook page a picture of protesters in Al-Hocei­ma waving Spanish flags. She called them “thugs” and urged Moroccans not to mobilise for such protests.
She quickly backtracked after vir­ulent social media postings called for her resignation and prosecution for insulting Moroccans.
Fikri’s father, Ali Fikri, a founding member of the Justice and Devel­opment Party (PJD), sought to calm public anger after “receiving guar­antees from the highest authori­ties” to conduct a fair and impartial investigation.
“I don’t want the death of my son to cause a civil disorder in Morocco, especially as the country is going through a special period, particu­larly with the approach of the COP 22 in the upcoming days,” he said referring to the international con­ference on climate change.
“Morocco enjoys stability at a time its neighbours are going through crises. We have a gov­ernment that promotes reform through preserving stability. This is what the Moroccan people want. They want reform and stability,” Ali Fikri said.
Fikri had bought 500 kilograms of unauthorised swordfish, which is subject to a fishing ban in Octo­ber and November, from fishermen in Al-Hoceima harbour, the inves­tigation said. Fikri’s merchandise, which was transported by a third party, escaped controls at the port but was seized in the city.
The prosecutor’s statement con­firmed Fikri was killed by a garbage compactor after he climbed inside the truck to retrieve his fish.
A fisheries official who attended the scene reported violations and police informed the public prosecu­tors, who ordered the confiscation of the fish, state news agency MAP reported.
A veterinary official ordered de­struction of the fish because of the lack of certification of origin.
Allegations of forgery of public documents relate to the destruc­tion order issued to the rubbish col­lection company, prosecutors said.
King Mohammed VI sent Interior Minister Mohamed Hassad to Al- Hoceima to open a “thorough and exhaustive investigation” and pros­ecute those responsible.
“We cannot accept officials act­ing in haste, anger or in conditions that do not respect people’s rights,” said Hassad.
Fikri’s death came two weeks after King Mohammed VI called for reform of public administra­tion, which he criticised for creat­ing obstacles to ensuring citizens’ rights and dealing with their con­cerns in a bureaucracy that has been plagued by corruption and in­competence.
Nabila Mounib, secretary-general of the Unified Socialist Party (PSU), attended an October 30th protest in Casablanca and denounced in­justice and corruption in the North African country.
“We want to live in Morocco of rights for everybody,” Mounib said. “These young people are struggling to get by and live decently.
“This is not the Morocco we want. The authority must protect citizens and respect human rights,” she added, calling for an impartial investigation and prosecution of those responsible for Fikri’s death.
Some Moroccans expressed fears of a conspiracy against the country, accusing “outside forces” of trying to destabilise Morocco.