Washington, DC — The Moroccan government has invited judges, lawyers, human rights activists, and reporters - from Morocco and around the world - to observe the trial, beginning today in Rabat, of 24 defendants charged with inciting violent riots that led to the brutal killing of 11 police officers in November, 2010.
Two-and-a-half years ago, in October 2010, protestors demanding better housing and job opportunities set up a tent city in the desert outside the city of Laayoune in the Western Sahara. Local authorities allowed the protest to continue and supplied the tent city with water, medicine and emergency personnel. But after several weeks of peaceful demonstration and fruitful daily negotiations between the protestors and government officials, violent militants tried to put an end to the dialogue and take over the protest - intimidating protestors and limiting freedom of movement in the camp.
Moroccan official made the difficult decision to intervene to protect the safety of the protestors and keep the peace. When police carrying only non-lethal gear to protect them entered the camp, they were met by men wielding machetes and Molotov cocktails. After the camp was peacefully and safely dispersed, despite militant attempts to incite violence, the militants left the site and started a riot in downtown Laayoune - where they attacked policemen with stones, explosives, and long knives, leaving 11 dead and 70 wounded. One civilian also died, and 4 civilians were injured in the riot.
Hopefully, the transparent judicial process taking place in Rabat, which is expected to include eyewitness testimony and videotape evidence of both the peaceful dispersal of the tent city and the riot, will reach a just conclusion for this tragic episode, and lawful determination of who is responsible for the violence and deaths in Laayoune.
Jordan C. Paul is Executive Director of the Moroccan American Center for Policy.