Fishmonger’s death triggers protests in Morocco, investigation launched
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.