In December 2018, Nasser Zefzafi was one of the three finalists of the European Sakharov Prize. In the presence of Nasser Zefzafi’s parents, this was extensively discussed in the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 9, 10, 11 & 12 December 2018. The nomination of Nasser Zefzafi for the Sakharov Prize 2018 ensured, among other things, that the European institutions became familiar with the Rif case. 2019 is a year in which the European Riffians managed to have a structural presence in the highest European body, the European Parliament.
The working group behind Nasser Zefzafi’s nomination for the European Sakharov Prize organised itself into a newly established organisation: Freedom & Human Rights Organization. One of the first diplomatic successes of FHRO was the establishment of a group of friends within the European Parliament called; Friends of The Rif. This group of friends consists of MEPs from different European political groups and from different European countries. Together with FHRO they form the Friends of The Rif 2019-2024.
One of the first things the group of friends did was to send an official letter (3 April 2019) to the Minister of Justice Mohamed Aujjar in Morocco, urging the release of the Hirak prisoners. The letter was signed by 25 MEPs and one member of the European Council. Almost all Moroccan media reported on this letter, Morocco has never reacted to the letter. The group of friends also contacted Federica Mogherini, High Representative for the foreign and defence policy of the European Union, by means of an official letter signed by several MEPs, in which attention was drawn to the Hirak prisoners. The pressure on Morocco slowly started to take off.
FHRO started to contact different European institutions to increase the pressure on Morocco. A number of meetings were held with EEAS (European External Action Service). EEAS is the diplomatic organization of the European Union. It supports, for example, the High Representative for Foreign and Defence Policy in the implementation of the European Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy. On 19 February 2019, EEAS issued a warning regarding Moroccan spies in Brussels.
In February 2019 it was also announced that Nasser Zefzafi’s health was deteriorating. Miguel Urban Crespo, member of The Friends of The Rif, gave a passionate speech in the European Parliament on 13 February 2019 in which he drew attention to the health situation of Nasser Zefzafi. In the meantime, Morocco continued to isolate the Rif area. On 18 February 2019 the Dutch journalist of the NRC, Gerard van der Aa, was expelled from the Rif. On 16 March 2019 David Penefuerte Rendon was denied access to the Rif.
Meanwhile the group of friends started to get more and more structure and welcomed more and more MEPs. On 27 March 2019, the second meeting of the group of friends took place at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. The group of friends included Miguel Urban Crespo, Lola Sanchez, Ana Miranda Paz, Marie-Christine Vergiat, Bart Staes, Kathleen van Brempt, Helmut Scholz, Philippe Lamberts, Brendo Benefei, Florent Marcellesi, Kati Piri, Judith Sargentini, Anne-Marie Mineur and Bodil Valero.
The trials against the Hirak detainees ended in March 2019. FHRO had made contact with Juan Soroeta of AIODH in the weeks preceding the statements against the leaders of the Hirak prisoners. At the beginning of March 2019 agreements were made between FHRO and AIODH for international observers from AIODH to visit the Hirak trials, this took place on 6 March 2019. During this visit, the international observers spoke with the lawyers of the Hirak detainees, other international observers (ISLP) and family of the Hirak detainees. In April 2019, the leaders of the Riffian People’s Movement were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment ranging from 5 to 20 years. The indignation, anger and powerlessness was felt all over the world. Virtually all media in the world reported on these sebtences. MEPs of the group of friends strongly condemned these statements. Miguel Urban Crespo appeared on social media immediately after the convictions of the Hirak leaders to express his support and solidarity with the prisoners. In May 2019 the European elections were on the agenda, an exciting time for the group of friends. Who would come back after the elections? A number of MEPs within the group of friends had already indicated that they would not be going for another term in the European Parliament. FHRO supported the campaigns of the MEPs of the group of friends who went for re-election. FHRO organised a conference in Madrid on 12 April 2019 in cooperation with PODEMOS Spain. On 4 May 2019, FHRO organised a conference in Antwerp, together with MEPs from the European group S&D and the European group Green. At the end of May 2019, it became clear which MEPs had been re-elected.
Shortly after the European elections in May 2019, it became clear that Barts Staes, Anne Marie Mineur, Judith Sargentini, Lola Sanchez, Bodil Valero and Marie Christine Vergiat were no longer in the European Parliament and were therefore no longer part of the group of friends. FHRO used the period up to the summer holidays of 2019 to make contact with newly elected MEPs. In addition, contact was made with national politicians from the Netherlands, Spain, France, Germany and Belgium to discuss the situation of De Rif in the national parliaments of those countries. In the Netherlands, Germany and Spain questions were put to the Ministers of Foreign Affairs about the situation in the Rif.
The discussions that were held with the new MEPs began to get results. MEPs Tineke Strik, Pernando Barrena, Manuel Pineda Marin, Sira Rego, Idoia Villanueva Ruiz, Diana Riba Giner and Leila Chaibi joined the group of friends The Friends of The Rif shortly after the summer holidays. In the meantime contact was also made with Fourat ben Chikha, Belgian member of the Council of Europe.
ISLP, a group of international observers from America who had observed the trials of the Hirak prisoners in Casablanca, issued a damning report on these trials. FHRO presented and discussed this report to several MEPs in September, October and November 2019. The report will certainly be followed up in 2020.
On 10 September, the group of friends sent an official letter to David Maria Sassoli, the new President of the European Parliament. His predecessor Antonio Tajani, had expressed his support for Nasser Zefzafi and the Riffine People’s Movement. The letter asked whether the new President would continue along these lines. On 31 October 2019, President Sassoli replied to the letter. In it he stated that the European Parliament supports and supports the finalists of the Sakharov Prize. He also indicated that the new Euro-Morroccan Partnership for Shard Prosperity had been launched in June 2019. One of the structural issues on which this Partnership is based is ‘the convergence of values’ in which human rights and freedom of speech are important. He proposed that the Maghreb delegation of the European Union contact FHRO for this dossier. The President would forward the letter to this delegation and contact the head of this delegation, Mr. Cozzolino, to take up the matter. FHRO has since made initial contacts with the head of this Maghreb delegation. To be continued in 2020.
FHRO had made contact with APDHA, an NGO from Spain, before the summer holidays of 2019. This NGO was mainly concerned with the flow of refugees from North Africa. When the mass arrests in the reef area began, thousands of reefs fled to Spain. APDHA could clearly see this in the explosive increase in the number of refugees from the Reef area. FHRO, together with Rafael Lara of APDHA, drew up a manifesto, Manifesto pro el rif. This manifesto was presented to the European group GUE/NGL on 11 September 2019 at a group meeting to which APDHA and FHRO were invited. Together with APDHA, FHRO held several livestream sessions on social media for Rif refugees in which information was given on how to act upon arrival in Spain. In October 2019 it was announced that APDHA had nominated Nasser Zefzafi for the annual human rights award of this organisation.
The third meeting of The Friends of The Rif took place on 17 September 2019. This was a meeting with the assistants of the MEPs in which especially the organization of the Friends of The Rif was discussed. On 17 October 2019 the fourth meeting of The Friends of The Rif was on the agenda in the European Parliament in Brussels. During this meeting, FHRO presented various initiatives for the year 2020. 2019 was a year in which the European Reefs succeeded in having a structural presence in the highest European body. The foundations were laid for structural cooperation with MEPs to keep the topic of the Reef on the European agenda. There are several initiatives on the agenda in the coming months. Morocco will have to get moving anyway. Will Morocco choose for a solution or will they put the heels further in the sand? In any case, the group of friends will be ready for both scenarios until 2024.
A final message to the European diaspora from De Rif: Be proud of what we have achieved together in recent years. Few minority groups have conquered the streets of Europe for three years with demonstrations, sessions, meetings and demonstrations. We have been heard clearly in Europe in recent years. We have all conveyed the message loud and clear. We have to push on, push on, push on. Keep going, keep going, keep going and keep going. We are the people of Abdel Karim el Khattabi, we do not bow. It’s in our DNA. Our history was written by our ancestors, the European diaspora will make history again together with the Riffine People’s Movement.
Long live the Reef.