Thousands in Morocco took to the streets to protest the death of a poor fishmonger who died a horrible death in the city of Al-Hoceima on Friday.
Mouhcine Fikri was crushed to death inside a garbage compactor after he jumped in to recover his fish, which was confiscated by the police.
In solidarity with his grieving family, students boycotted schools, vendors refused to open their shops and small business owners shut down their work as they called on the authorities to conduct a fair investigation into the case.
The circumstances surrounding the 31-year-old’s death are not clear, but a human rights activist said the authorities forced him to destroy several boxes of swordfish, a protected species in Morocco.
“The goods were worth a lot of money,” explained Fassal Aoussar from the Moroccan Association of Human Rights. “The salesman threw himself in after his fish and was crushed by the machine. The whole of the Rif is in shock and boiling over.”
The Associated Press reports Fikri was accompanied by several friends who dived into the garbage truck with him to retrieve the $11,000 worth of merchandise after authorities confiscated it. However, when the compactor started operating, the friends jumped out but Fikri, for some reason, was stuck inside.
A witness told the local news the police officers, who had surrounded the truck, had asked for the trash compactor to be activated to scare away the men — another brutal example of abuse of power.
“While we have a constitution since 2011, and the country is moving slowly but surely towards democracy, a large segment of Morocco's security apparatus is still dealing with the Moroccan people with the same mentality as in 1980's and 1990's,” Samir Bennis, editor in chief of Morocco World News, told Al Jazeera. “So with these protests Moroccans are trying to communicate to the government that they have had enough of this impunity and of this abuse of power.”
Hundreds marched behind Fikri’s funeral procession through Al-Hoceima in the Berber Rif region, chanting, “We are all Mouhcine!”
For the most part, the protests were peaceful.
Meanwhile, the Moroccan government condemned the incident and King Mohammed VI has ordered the authorities to “determine the exact circumstances of the tragedy and punish those responsible.”
“No one had the right to treat him like this,” Interior Minister Mohamed Hassad said in a statement. “We cannot accept officials acting in haste, anger or in conditions that do not respect people's rights.”
Considering such large-scale demonstrations are rare in the country, the current situation has reminded many of the Arab Spring uprisings, which began after a fruit vendor set himself ablaze in front of a government building in Tunisia.
“I have never seen such a crowd in the last few years, since 2011 at least,” said Houssin Lmrabet, an activist from the town of Imzouren, where thousands took part in the funeral of the victim and protests that followed. “Everyone feels crushed by that garbage truck here.”
Law enforcement officials using their power to harass or torture the masses is not just an issue in under-developed or non-democratic countries — the entire world is plagued by it.
In the United States, the excessive use of police force against minority communities — particularly the African Americans — frequently makes headlines.