When a police officer slapped a local teacher in the town of Tazarine in southeastern Morocco on October 23, he probably thought he’d get away with it. Instead, a group of angry locals surrounded him, trapping him in his car. Our Observer, who was a witness to the entire scene, says this is not the first time that a police officer has used physical violence towards a civilian. This time, however, locals decided to act.
The small town of Tazarine was bustling on October 23 as it was market day and many people had come in from the surrounding villages to shop. Mohamed M’lalou, a teacher from one of the villages, was riding his moped along the busy street on his way to work at a local high school when he was stopped by a police officer.
"There’s no way to speak out about these officers or report them”
Mourad (not his real name) lives in Tazarine and was at the market on the day of the incident.
A police officer of the Royal Gendarmerie [Editor’s note: a military component with jurisdiction in civil law enforcement] stopped the teacher in the middle of the market held in the main town square. The officer asked the teacher for his moped’s registration papers and the teacher handed them over.
After a while, M’lalou’s moped started to back up traffic, as it was parked in the middle of the street. M’lalou asked for his papers from the officer, but the officer refused and said that the moped wasn’t fit to be ridden and would be seized.
M’lalou decided to turn off the engine and leave the moped in the middle of the street. The gendarme and one of his fellow officers went towards the moped to move it. The teacher tried to stand up for himself and the men started arguing. The gendarme ended up slapping the teacher in the face and then confiscating both his phone and his helmet.
This video shows the gendarme and the teacher arguing about the moped, shortly before the gendarme hit the teacher.
By this point, a crowd had formed around the teacher, his moped and the gendarme. When the spectators saw the gendarme hit they teacher, they began to raise their voices, decrying all of the other times that officers of the Royal Gendarmerie had abused their power, which is fairly common in the region.
"Yesterday, a gendarme in Tazarine got big-headed and hit a teacher (...) Locals surrounded his car, trapping him inside, until his fellow officers arrived and took him away....”
Generally, the gendarmes position themselves somewhere between two national roads so they can monitor as many cars as possible. Recently, however, they’ve been coming into almost all of the villages in the region and harassing the local population. The people who live in these villages are already poor, yet officers will frequently confiscate their vehicles and charge them 10 or 20 euros to retrieve them, which is a large sum for these families. Such practices are completely illegal but we’ve been living with them for years because we don’t really have a choice. There’s no way to speak out about these officers or report them.
The victim, Mohamed M'lalou, explains what happened to him while other local residents speak out about the abusive and illegal practices of gendarmes in the province of Zagora.
That violent slap was the straw that broke the camel’s back. People were angry that the gendarme would do something so humiliating to a citizen who was just trying to stand up for his rights.
At that point, the gendarme retreated to his car, likely afraid of the mounting hostility. The crowd blocked his exit, forcing him to stay put until the regional commander of the gendarmerie arrived with the state prosecutor.
According to both our Observer and local media, the road through Tazarine was blocked between 11am and 5pm by the crowd surrounding the gendarme in his car.
The situation finally de-escalated after the arrival of the regional commander of the gendarmerie. He escorted the gendarme out of the situation, but not before filing a report and dispersing the crowd with difficulty. Our Observer says that the two gendarmes involved in the incident haven’t been seen in town since.
For the time being, the Moroccan Royal Gendarmerie has not made an official statement.
Article written by Fatma Ben Hamad.