Thousands rally in Morocco for jailed Rif opponents

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RABAT –Thousands of people demonstrated in Morocco's capital Rabat on Sunday against the jailing of leaders and activists of a northern protest movement. 

"The people boycott the justice system!" and "free the detainees!", yelled the protesters, AFP reporters said. 

The demonstrators also chanted against militarisation of the Rif, the northern region rocked by the Al-Hirak al-Shaabi (Popular Movement) protests in 2016 and 2017. 

Under the watchful eyes of the police, people marched towards parliament brandishing pictures of the movement's leaders and activists. 

A Moroccan court on June 26 sentenced 53 Hirak members to prison terms ranging from one year to 20 years. 

Protest leader Nasser Zefzafi and three others were handed each 20-year jail terms for "plotting to undermine the security of the state". 

Islamist group Al Adl Wal Ihsane -- tolerated but unrecognised by the government -- was one of several groups to take part in Sunday's protest. 

The group mobilised between 6,000 and 8,000 people, local authorities said. 

Those sentenced in June include journalist Hamid el Mahdaoui who has given a three-year jail term for "failing to denounce an attempt to harm internal state security" in his coverage. 

The activists are appealing the sentences and Amnesty International has called for the verdicts to be overturned. 

The 2016 protests began when fisherman Mouhcine Fikri was crushed to death in a rubbish truck, while he was apparently trying to retrieve swordfish seized by authorities as it was caught out of season. 

Subsequent unrest in the Rif region, where the marginalised Berber ethnic group is the majority, focused on social issues as demonstrators demanded jobs and development. 
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