Zineb El-Rahzoui’s disappearance, Thursday, has innondated the Moroccan media. For some six days now, members of her family and the Moroccan Association of Human Rights are desperately seeking the founder of the Movement for alternative civil liberties (MALI). September 13, the activist took part in a “non-fasters” demonstration in Morocco to protest against a law that punishes “public non-observation of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.”
Zineb El Rhazoui is nowhere to be found. The Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH) has had “no news” of the Franco-Moroccan journalist since Thursday. She is suspected of being the brain behind a failed “non-fasters” demonstration during the Ramadan fasting month in Morocco. Zineb El Rhazoui is a member of the Movement for alternative civil liberties (MALI). September 13, the group organised a picnic in a wooded area close to Mohammedia, to break their fast in the afternoon. Their goal was to denounce a Moroccan law that punishes “public non-observance of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.” Article 222 of Morocco’s Penal Code states that “any Moroccan Muslim who publicly violates (the fast) is punishable by six months in prison and a fine,” while another outrightly bans de-conversion from Islam.
Referring the case to the Department of Justice, the president of AMDH said, “it is not known whether she disappeared in an illegal manner or if she is hiding to avoid the tension associated with her recent activities”. Before her disappearance, five of the six young members of MALI who also campaigned for the abrogation of Act 222 were summoned for questioning by the Moroccan police. Zineb El-Rhazoui, who was also summoned Thursday at Mohammedia, has not been seen since. The authorities cliam not to “know where she is.”
A mysterious disappearance?
Ibdtisam Lachgar, one of Zineb’s close friends who had communicated with her by mail and telephone, told AFP Sunday that “Zineb did not know whether or not to honour the police summon”. According to Lachgar, “her phone has been switched off” since. She also told the AFP that Zineb had told her that, given the outcome of the case, she preferred “not to see anybody”. “I do not want to show myself… I think I’ll stay put in an apartment”, Zineb told her friend.
Following the affair, several Moroccan newspapers wrote frenzied articles denouncing the group’s “virulent” acts. On the front page of the September 16 edition of the Al-Alam, a local newspaper that belongs to the Istiqlal Party (also the Moroccan Prime Minister Abbas El Fassi’s party), an editorial read: “They don’t belong with us”. Besides the libellous headlines, members of MALI received death threats via the Internet, indicated a communiqué from Human Rights Watch. September 15, an official newspaper published a statement from the Provincial Council of Mohammedia Ulemas (doctors of Islamic law), in which they denounced the picnic organised by “the agitators” as an “abhorrent” act that “defies the teachings of God and the prophet with all the severe sanctions it would bring about.”
“Moroccan authorities point proudly to the country’s multi-confessional heritage,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and Africa at Human Rights Human Rights Watch said in a statement. “But tolerance means also protecting the right of individuals, such as those in MALI, to define and practice their faith as they wish and – as they set out to do – in a manner respectful of others.