By: Daniel McElroy
Silya Ziani, the 23 year-old protest singer who was arrested on June 5 for her involvement with ongoing protests in Morocco’s Rif region, has been released after a royal pardon freed dozens of the movement’s detained activists.
Ziani and thousands of other Amazigh (Berber) Moroccans have been demonstrating regularly since October 2016, when a fish merchant was crushed in a trash compactor while trying to retrieve stock that had apparently been wrongly confiscated by the police. This event sparked anger throughout the region—and especially in its capital, Al Hoceima—where the Moroccan government has long failed to invest in infrastructure, education, and healthcare.
On July 29, King Mohammed VI announced that he would pardon hundreds of prisoners in celebration of the 18th anniversary of his coronation, among them 58 members of the Rif movement. Ziani, the only woman from the movement to be detained, was also the only of its leaders to receive a pardon. Immediately following the king’s speech, the Moroccan Association for Human Rights demanded more justice, indicating that with over 270 Rif activists detained, freedom for only 58 of them was insufficient.
In a statement to reporters outside the Oukacha Prison in Casablanca late Saturday night, Ziani said that she was “very happy to finally regain her freedom”, but called on authorities to release the rest of the Rif detainees. She also reiterated that the Rif movement “is social, economic and cultural, and its demands apply to the whole of Morocco”, refuting claims from the opposition that suggested it was a violent separatist movement.
Thank you to all who participated in the campaign and shared her story. We will continue to monitor the situation and issues of artistic free expression in the region.