After 80 days of peaceful protests in Jerada, a town in eastern Morocco, demonstrators and police clashed for the first time on the evening of March 14. One protester filmed a police van driving rapidly into the crowd of protesters, a video that sparked shock and anger throughout the country.
For nearly three months, there have been widespread protests in Jerada, an old mining town in eastern Morocco. The demonstrations were sparked by the death of three miners in December 2017 and protesters are demanding measures to improve the economic situation in the town, which has been in crisis since the closure of its mines. The government announced a series of measures, but they were judged to be insufficient and people continued to protest.
However, on March 13, the Moroccan minister of the interior decided to ban gatherings in the city of Jerada. In response, protesters launched a sit-in in a city suburb starting at 8 a.m. the next morning.
Security forces intervened, sparking violent clashes. A widely-shared video showed a police van driving into the crowd of protesters. You can hear demonstrators cry, “Look, they want to crush us!".
The authorities have called this footage “fake news”
The video seems to show the police van hitting protesters. Screen grabs of this moment circulated widely online.
Screengrabs of a video published on the "Akhbar Jerada" Facebook group.
At 11 seconds, the footage shows what looks like a police van violently striking a person. According to local media Alyaoum24, the victim was a 16-year-old, who is currently receiving emergency medical care.
Jerada’s authorities released a statement to respond to these accusations.
"Some websites and pages on social media shared lying and false information claiming that a 16-year-old youth apparently died on Wednesday in Jerada after being run over by a city vehicle.”
The authorities also shared images of the clashes between police and protesters.
A police vehicle caught fire during clashes between civilian and police in Jerada on March 14. (Source: Médias24)
Protesters throw rocks at security forces on March 14. (Source: Le360.ma)
Many people nevertheless responded with shock and anger when the video of the police van appeared on social media.
"Is this really Morocco? With the people’s fuel, they crush people.”
First tweet translated from French: “Whether you speak Arabic or not, you can hear the cry of anger from these protesters in #Jerada about the police violence that they are subject to for having dared to demand their rights. What courage, what dignity. And what SHAME for the Moroccan government. #Hirak"
Second tweet translated from French: “Sensitive souls, refrain: here’s a video showing police vehicles literally crushing protesters in #Jerada, among them, men, women and children. It’s revolting. #Hirak"
"The police vans ended up driving into the crowd to break it up”
Reda Y. (not his real name) witnessed this scene. He condemns the media campaign launched by the Moroccan government to discredit the protesters.
To get around the ban on protesting in the city, we decided to go to a nearby forest, near some abandoned coal mines. There were about a hundred of us, carrying flags and signs.
Then the police vans arrived. They rapidly surrounded us, but we continued our march.
The police started to attack protesters by throwing stones at us. [Editor’s note: Other protesters contacted by FRANCE 24 confirmed this version of events]. They attacked anyone who was filming with a mobile phone. After a few hours, the police vans drove into the crowd to disperse us. Then, they began to shove protesters, who were blinded by the sand that they scattered with their vehicles.
They ended up hitting one of the protesters, who is now in the emergency room. He has little chance of walking again, according to his doctors.
"Injured protesters treated themselves at home because they were afraid of being arrested"
That’s when it all started to get out of control. A group of protesters attacked the police. The clashes intensified before the crowd was finally broken up.
The police declared that more officers were injured than protesters. But the truth is that many injured protesters treated themselves at home because they were afraid of being arrested if they sought medical care.
The next day, the entire town was shut down by the strike.
Children didn’t go to school and we decided not to go work. Since then, there has been a wave of arrests. Every night, police officers raid people’s homes and take everyone in for questioning. Over all, almost 80 people have been arrested [Editor’s note: The authorities claimed only nine people were arrested.]
On March 16, despite the ban on protests, people living in Jerada continued to mobilise. Alongside their social and economic demands, they are now calling for the liberation of people who were detained.
FRANCE 24 reached out to the office of Jerada’s mayor and the Ministry of the Interior, but neither responded to our questions. If they respond, we will update this article with their comments.