Morocco charges 11 over fish seller’s death amid protests

Activists accused police officers at the scene of ordering rubbish men to crush Fikri but the police denied those accusations, but the prosecutor said the investigation had shown there was no order to harm the victim.

Protesters take part in a rally after the death of Mouhcine Fikri, a fishmonger who was crushed to death inside a rubbish truck as he tried to retrieve fish confiscated by police, in the northern city of Al Hoceima on October 31, 2016. Eleven people were charged on November 1 in relation to the incident that sparked protests throughout Morocco. Reuters
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RABAT // Moroccan authorities have charged 11 people over the death of a fishmonger who was crushed in a rubbish lorry while trying to stop police from destroying his stock, in a case that has ignited public anger.

The death of Mouhcine Fikri, 31, in the northern city of Al Hoceima on Friday prompted thousands to take to the streets in four days of protests, among the biggest in Morocco since pro-reform demonstrations broke out during the 2011 Arab Spring.

According to authorities, Fikri jumped inside the rubbish truck in a desperate attempt to save the confiscated fish after police had thrown the stock inside. Fikri was caught inside the crushing mechanism.

To calm tensions, King Mohamed, currently on a tour of Africa, called for a “thorough and exhaustive investigation” into Fikri’s death and ordered the interior minister to visit the victim’s family and present royal condolences. Protesters and a frenzy of angry postings on social media have blamed the the royal establishment.

The general prosecutor said on Tuesday that 11 people had been charged with involuntary manslaughter. They include two interior ministry officials, two local fisheries officials and the veterinary chief in Al Hoceima.

Fikri bought 500kg of swordfish, for which fishing is banned from October 1 to November 30 every year, according to a prosecutor’s statement published by state news agency MAP.

A police officer guarding the port gates called the security services, who impounded Fikri’s lorry.

The veterinary chief decided the fish was unfit for consumption because of a lack of documents.

But the local committee had already prepared the legal paperwork to destroy the fish before seizing it, which amounts to forgery of public documents, the statement said.

Activists accused police officers at the scene of ordering rubbish collection workers to crush Fikri but police denied those accusations. The prosecutor said the investigation had shown there was no order to harm the victim.

Protests spread from Al Hoceima to other towns in the surrounding Rif region, as well as in Casablanca and the capital Rabat, where hundreds gathered chanting “Mohcine was murdered.”

Large-scale political protests are rare in Morocco, where the king still holds ultimate sway, although unemployed graduates have long demonstrated for jobs across the country.

While leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya were swept from power in 2011, King Mohamed defused protests in Morocco that year by devolving some of his power to the elected government.

* Reuters and Agence France-Presse