Moroccan judges demonstrate for more independence
Around 1,000 Moroccan judges held an unprecedented sit-in Saturday in front of the Supreme Court, calling for greater independence for the judiciary.
The rare demonstration was organized by the Judges' Club, a group formed in August 2011 to push for judicial reform. The group has been officially banned, but is tolerated.
Morocco's courts have historically been weak and under the control of the king and his Justice Ministry, which determines judges' salaries and appointments so that they will often rule as instructed for the sake of their careers.
"We have no protection, no rights, we have a miserable salary, we work in catastrophic conditions," said Nazik Bekkal, a judge from Sidi Kassem in northern Morocco, at the demonstration. "Above all we are not autonomous, very simply, and that's what is most important, it's the autonomy, the independence of the judiciary, that's what we really are looking for."
Club founder Yassine Mkhelli, a judge from Taounate in northern Morocco, said that more than 2,200 judges - around two-thirds of the country's total - have signed their petitition calling for reforms.
In May, judges across the country wore red armbands to protest official interference in the judiciary in another action organized by the club.
Morocco's new constitution passed last year does give the judicial branch greater powers and independence but it has yet to be implemented.
Justice is one of the most sensitive issues in this tourist-friendly North African country of 32 million, where there is widespread distrust of a court system that most Moroccans believe serves the highest bidder.
Critics say verdicts in civil trials can be bought for just $5,000, while a phone call from a high official is enough to seal a guilty verdict in the case of terrorism or political trials.
The Islamist Justice and Development Party that won last year's elections made battling corruption and creating a truly independent judiciary a main plank of its campaign, but judges say little has changed.
"This issue concerns all the Moroccan people who deserve a truly independent judiciary," said Mohammed Anbar, the vice president of the club and a Supreme Court judge. "We are here, simply put, for the independence of the justice system. We want a justice system which is effective, has integrity, is strong and is independent."