Every other Wednesday, the mothers, wives and sisters of the last 39 Hirak protestors still jailed in Casablanca travel 1200 kilometres from the Rif by bus to visit their loved ones. With the help of the Committee for the Support of Hirak Prisoners’ Families, they struggle to improve their conditions of detention and cope with their own hardships at home.
Rhimou Saidi, the mother of detainee Mohammed Jelloul, on the bus that takes her back to Al-Hoceima on 28 October 2018. © Youssef Afas
The sun was beating down on the barbed wire, the ochre watchtower and the blue walls of Ain Sebaâ prison, located in the Oukacha industrial estate, twenty minutes from central Casablanca, when a black minibus pulled up near the entrance. On that Wednesday morning, 28 November, some 15 women, a few children and a handful of men scrambled out of the van to visit their loved ones. The same scene has been recurring twice a month for the past two years. They had left Al Hoceima at 8 PM the night before and endured a non-stop ten-hour journey to profit by every minute of visiting time.
Between May and July 2017, the police arrested hundreds of Hirak protestors, the mass movement which had begun in October 2016, following the tragic death of Mouhcine Fikri in Al Hoceima, capital of the Rif. The fishmonger had been crushed to death in a refuse collection lorry while trying to recover his wares, confiscated by the authorities. The protests that followed were aimed, among other targets, at the spread of corruption, the marginalisation of the north-west region and the lack of hospitals and universities there. Today, 39 protestors are still being held far from their homes, in Casablanca, where Moroccan political prisoners are habitually incarcerated. Their appeal trial began almost three months ago, on November 14, 2018, and three hearings have already been held.
“My boy deserves a medal”
Leaving the prison around 1 PM, the women from the Rif, who had just spent two hours in the visiting room, were better inclined to talk to us, despite the inquisitive gazes of the police officers tagging along behind them. “It’s OK, he’s all right,” Oulaya whispers. She is the mother of Nabil Hamjike, serving a term of twenty years. “But he has no business being in there, he didn’t steal any money, they were just demanding their rights. My boy deserves a medal, not a jail sentence!” proclaimed the sixty-year-old woman who calls all the prisoners “my sons.” Seated in a small café across from the detention centre, we ordered tubs of chips and sandwiches. Hanane, 31, Mohamed Harki’s sister, was more worried: he stands to get 15 years. Her brother went on a hunger strike to demand enrolment for a master’s degree which he has since obtained. And there was Souad, wife of Karim Amghar, serving ten years. She had his son on her lap. The baby was born just two months after his father was arrested, and has never seen him except behind bars. “It’s hard on him, in the bus he never stops crying, ” she says. But the young mother insists he come with her from time to time.
Since the prisoners were transferred to Oukacha, soon after their arrest, the National Council on Human Rights (NCHR), a body relatively independent from the State, managed to get three minibuses provided free of charge every other Wednesday by the regional council of Casablanca. In the beginning, some families managed to come every Wednesday for the weekly visits, but at a cost of 300 dinars ($32, £24) per person, and few could afford the trip. All told us of the fatigue they endure, the swollen calves, the freezing cold, the vomiting. But while some have spaced out their trips, none have given them up altogether.
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