Screenshot from a video that shows protestors in Chlihat being sprayed by a water cannon.
Morocco's Interior Minister has told the country's parliament that he has footage that proves that the security forces were attacked by the villagers. He also said that about 30 people had been taken into custody following the clashes, and that about two dozen would soon be headed to court.
For the past week, the northern Moroccan village of Chlihat has been the scene of violent confrontations
between local residents and security forces. The unrest began when hundreds of residents staged a protest against a local rice mill that is owned by a Spanish company. The demonstration was violently suppressed by security forces.
The Spanish company Rivera del Arroz has been leasing a 4,000-hectare plot of land from the Moroccan government since 2007. The land is surrounded by a number of impoverished villages, including Chlihat, which has a population of 400 inhabitants. Last Thursday morning, some farmers from Chlihat went to one of the fields belonging to the rice mill to stop the company’s tractors from ploughing the land. They claim that Rivera del Arroz had reneged on an agreement
made with the local community, in which the company allegedly promised not to use this particular plot of land. Locals had asked the company not to plant any crops in the field next to their village because rice fields are an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes, and they also hoped for a chance to use the field to grow their own crops.
In this video, posted on YouTube on June 15, several villagers describe the repressive measures taken against Thursday’s demonstration.
At 0’32: “We are trapped. We can’t go anywhere, not even to the market. They turn up at our homes at 2 a.m., 3 a.m., 4 a.m., and break down the doors. Nobody is allowed to leave the village. Even sick people needing medical attention are not allowed to leave.”
At 2’58: “The state needs to take steps to guarantee not only the dignity of its citizens, but also their safety. But all the government is concerned about is serving the interests of a company that infringes on our rights.”
On Thursday morning, violent clashes broke out between local residents and the armed forces the government had sent to work as security guards for the company. According to the Minister of the Interior, demonstrators tried to block traffic on a motorway and threw stones at the police, injuring dozens. However protesters claim that security forces, comprising around 1,500 officers, used excessive force to disperse the protest, spraying people with water cannons and firing rubber bullets. Activists from the Moroccan Organisation for Human Rights (AMDH) who took part in the protest reported that around 100 people were injured. The AMDH has also reported that in the past few days, police have forcibly entered villagers’ homes and ransacked local shops.
Cartridges from rubber bullets. Photo taken by our Observer Saïd Kharraje on 19 June.
Relations between the rice company and local farmers have been difficult for a number of years. In addition to the issue of the land the company allegedly promised not to use, farmers claim that Rivera del Arroz has broken a pledge it made during negotiations in 2009 to hire 500 local people. A local AMDH activist says “only 12 people were employed by the company, as the manufacturing processes in the rice production plant are almost entirely automated”.
According to AMDH, 25 people have been arrested since the beginning of the protests, including journalists and human rights activists. The organisation says sixteen people are still being detained and the situation remains tense.
We have tried to contact Rivera del Arroz several times to ask for their comment, but we haven’t yet received an answer.