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Morocco urged to stop "harassing" vote boycott activists

Human Rights Watch urges Moroccan authorities to lay off activists calling for people to boycott Friday's parliamentary elections

AFP , Thursday 24 Nov 2011
Morocco
Anti-government protesters shout during a rally organized by the 20th February, the Moroccan Arab Spring movement in Casablanca, Morocco, Sunday, Nov 20, 2011, in a mass popular call to bring more democracy into this North African kingdom. Thousands of Moroccans from the pro-democracy movement braved pouring rain and high winds in Casablanca to make a final call to boycott upcoming elections. (Photo:AP)
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Moroccan authorities must stop "harassing" activists who are calling for a boycott of Friday's legislative elections in the North African country, Human Rights Watch said.

Moroccan police have taken over 100 people into police stations since 20 October to question them about the distribution of fliers, or other efforts, urging people not to vote, the New York-based rights group said Thursday.

"The right to freely choose and campaign for one’s representatives in government includes the right not to vote, and to urge others to do the same," the group's director for the Middle East and North Africa, Sarah Leah Whitson, said in a statement.

"Harassing people who support a boycott is just as bad as harassing those who support a particular party or candidate, and casts a shadow over the vote."

Thousands of people urged a boycott at peaceful rallies on Sunday called by the pro-reform 20 February movement, which grew out of the Arab Spring uprisings.

The group brings together radical Islamists, left-wing activists, students and independents.

Friday's election will be the first since a new constitution — proposed by King Mohamed VI as regimes in neighbouring countries were being swept away — was overwhelmingly approved in a 1 July referendum.

The amended constitution gives more powers to parliament and the prime minister, who must be appointed by the king from the party that wins the most seats in the assembly.

The 20 February movement, which also called for a boycott of the referendum, argues the reforms do not go far enough to qualify as a democratic constitution and that the elections will only lend credibility to an undemocratic regime.

While the constitutional reform devolved some of the king's powers to parliament and the prime minister, he remains the head of state and the military and still appoints ambassadors and diplomats.

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