The Court of Cassation, the Supreme Court of Morocco, has firmly sentenced former minister Mohamed Ziane, 80 years old and also a Spanish national, to three years in prison. The man who was the head of the Human Rights portfolio between 1995 and 1996, before being a member of the opposition, has been interned for six months in the El Arjat prison, on the outskirts of Rabat, after being indicted for 11 crimes, including they the one of “insult to the institutions”. A year ago, he released a video on social networks in which he criticized “the absences of Mohamed VI”, who will turn 60 in August, for allegedly ignoring the affairs of the kingdom, and demanding that he abdicate in favor of his son, the prince heir Hassan, 20 years old.
The ratification of the sentence has revived the debate on the public presence of the monarch of the Alaouite dynasty, who spent more than six months abroad in 2022 (Gabon, Seychelles and Paris) and has spent nearly three months abroad since the beginning of 2023 (Gabon). The Supreme Court ruling was made known after the return of Mohamed VI to Morocco at the end of March from his residence in Pointe-Denis, on the Libreville estuary, coinciding with the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. In the middle of the holidays that began in December 2022, the sovereign made an official visit on February 15 to the capital of Gabon, where he was seen for the first time visibly thinner. He was then forced to cancel at the last minute, for health reasons, the official trip he had planned the following week to Senegal, when his foreign minister, Naser Burita, was already awaiting his arrival in Dakar. Mohamed VI has undergone two cardiac surgery interventions in 2018 and 2020.
Since then, there have been reports in foreign media —such as The Economist, The Times or Le Figaro—, in which unidentified official sources echoed the discomfort in the Moroccan state apparatus due to the absence of the monarch. In particular, they criticized the growing influence enjoyed by three German brothers of Moroccan origin linked to martial arts and very close to Mohamed VI. This is Abu Baker Azaitar, a 35-year-old mixed arts wrestler, known in his professional environment as Gladiator and with a criminal record in Germany, where he served a two-year prison sentence; his brother Ottman, also a wrestler and four years younger and, finally, Omar, trainer of both and twin of Abu Baker. Since he became friends with them in 2018, they are regular companions on his vacations.
Abu Bakr Azaitar, at a boxing competition in Las Vegas, Nevada, in March 2021.Mike Roach (Zuffa LLC)
The international media have now followed a critical path opened two years ago by Moroccan digital portals considered close to the intelligence services. “We are going in a plane without a pilot,” a former senior official told The Economist on condition of anonymity. In 2021, the digital newspaper Hespress attacked, also anonymously, against the privileges of the Azaitar brothers for “damaging” the “credibility of the country” by acting like Rasputin at the Czar’s court.
Ziane, born in Malaga to a Spanish mother, was president of the Moroccan capital’s Bar Association and has served as a defense lawyer in prominent cases related to human rights. Among the charges reflected in the sentence that has just been ratified are those of “instigating to violate the measures to prevent the spread of the covid”, “giving a bad example to children” or “adultery”. After hearing the sentence, his son and his defense attorney, Ali Reda Ziane, informed the Efe news agency on Thursday that the Supreme Court had held the last hearing of the appeal on the 10th.
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subscribeFormer Moroccan minister Mohamed Ziane, in a Casablanca court in 2018.FADEL SENNA (AFP)
Before the former Moroccan minister was imprisoned, his son had assured that he began to receive pressure after having represented in court militants of the Hirak (protest movement) of the Rif, in the north of the country with a majority of the Berber population, including years 2016 and 2017. Founder of the Liberal Party of Morocco, in the opposition, he also exercised the legal defense of accused journalists such as Taufic Buachrín, director of the newspaper Ajbar al Yaum, sentenced in 2018 to 15 years in prison for various crimes of a sexual nature.
sexual offense accusations
The NGO Human Rights Watch, based in New York, has denounced in a report the “tactics” of the Moroccan authorities to silence political dissidents with accusations of sexual crimes. In 2020, Ziane himself blamed the security services for manipulating a video in which he appeared with a married client in a hotel room. Amnesty International has warned that the charge of adultery against him is “unfounded”, since there was no complaint from at least one of the spouses of the adulterers, as required by Moroccan law.
Deputies from the Popular Party addressed a series of questions to the Government of Spain about the situation of Ziane, as a Spanish citizen detained abroad. At the end of January, the Foreign Ministry limited itself to replying in Parliament without providing further details: “Human rights are a guiding principle of foreign policy. Both in its bilateral contacts and in the framework of the EU’s dialogue with the different States, Spain raises issues relating to human rights, globally and in particular cases”.
Mohamed VI during the inauguration of a hospital in Tangier, on April 28. MAP
Since his return from Gabon two months ago, Mohamed VI has lavished his presence at official and religious events, inaugurations and even at a commercial presentation. As Amir the Moominin, or Commander of the Believers, he presided over the Ramadan religious talks of Islamic scholars founded by his father, Hassan II, and broadcast on television. During the same sacred month, he traveled to Tangier to inaugurate a large hospital complex that had been finished for some time, waiting for the sovereign to be present at the mandatory opening ceremony.
The King of Morocco has maintained an intense public activity, with gestures towards the Berber minority such as the declaration of the Amazigh New Year as an official holiday. It has also focused on appointing senior posts, beginning with the new Inspector General of the Armed Forces (the highest-ranking military post after the king), General Mohamed Berrid, who will also serve as commander of the southern zone, which includes the territory of Western Sahara. Last week, in a Council of Ministers in which he urged the government to adopt measures against the drought, he completed a series of appointments, including that of the new director of the state news agency MAP, Fuad Arif, a former correspondent in Paris and Washington.
Shortly before, in an act organized in the royal palace of Rabat, his public exhibition culminated to counteract previous absences. After having left behind the thick figure that characterized him in recent years, the monarch presided over the presentation of the NEO prototype, the first conventional vehicle from a Moroccan manufacturer, and the innovative NamX, destined to become a motor car in the future. of hydrogen.
King Mohammed VI presides over the presentation of a vehicle at the Royal Palace in Rabat on May 15.MAP
After an initial stage of his reign marked by reforms between 1999 and 2011, Mohamed VI seems to have left the reins of the country in the hands of advisers such as Fuad Ali el Himma, a former fellow student at the Royal College of Rabat, and State security. under the command of super-agents such as Abdelatif Hamuchi, who accumulates control of the General Directorate for Territory Supervision (internal intelligence) and National Security, on which 30,000 police officers depend.
Both are considered the most direct rivals of the growing influence of the Azaitar brothers, who approached the sovereign five years ago as personal trainers, whom they now see as a danger to the interests of the Moroccan monarchy. Despite having returned to public activity in Morocco in recent weeks, Mohamed VI has declined to attend international conclaves such as those organized by the Arab League in Algiers, in November 2022, and in Jeddah, last week. He was also one of the few reigning monarchs not to attend Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral in London.
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